During their 40-year absence, Abba’s music prevailed. But in a time when we’ve never needed comfort more, the Swedish supergroup make their comeback to numb the pain with a drug like no other. Confirming their expertise in presenting sadness as happiness, their ninth and final album comes with an emotional familiarity for songs we’ve never heard before.
"We took a break in the spring of 1982 and now we've decided it's time to end it," Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad said in September. That same day they announced a 2022 "digital concert residency" in London – featuring avatars of their 1979 selves – and double-dropped their singles I Still Have Faith in You and Don't Shut Me Down. When a TV reunion would have sufficed, Abba thought otherwise.
The songwriting and composition are so full of quirks and so exquisitely Abba that it's hard to notice the passage of time
“I can remember when you left Kilkenny and you told me I’d return next year,” they sing over rolling pipes on When You Danced with Me, an Irish folk-song-power-ballad hybrid. Harking back to 1979’s I Have a Dream, a children’s choir coats a festive glaze over the Christmas ditty Little Things. The conversational I Can Be That Woman is remniniscent of Chiquitita, although instead of wiping the tears of a brokenhearted friend she leaves her own abusive partner. With a nod to SOS in the outro, the synth-heavy Keep an Eye on Dan focuses on the children of divorce. There lieth the wonder of Abba: everyday stories with universal appeal.
Modernity is kept to a minimum in the production, allowing us to hear the tongue clicks and breath intakes of Fältskog and Lyngstad. And while they harmonise in a lower register than when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, with Waterloo, the songwriting (Ulvaeus) and composition (Andersson) are so full of quirks and so exquisitely Abba that it’s hard to notice the passage of time.
In the face of abject snobbery toward their pure brand of pop, Abba’s popularity persists. Their 1992 greatest-hits collection, Abba Gold, is one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, and the success of the 1999 musical Mamma Mia! is overshadowed by the 2008 film adaptation and 2018 sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, setting off cultural waves for their music as well as for Pierce Brosnan’s singing abilities.
Returning to say goodbye, themes of unity and resilience fittingly open and close the album. Ode to Freedom is the final ta-ra from one of the greatest music groups of all time. But with the digital shows and a forever multiplying legacy, the end of Abba is nowhere in sight.