ABBA Voyage: My unexpected emotion as Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid returned - Liam Rudden
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The world's greatest pop band, missing in action for the last 40 years, had been teasing their return for days but what exactly would they announce? New music seemed certain, hadn’t they promised new songs a couple of years ago. There was talk of a possible reunion concert, of new singles and of their first new album in four decades.
Then came the concern, could they live up their legacy? ABBA bowed out on a high, now, with Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid aged 71, 76, 74 and 75 respectively, would they still recreate the energy, creativity, voices and sheer magic of their younger selves? Within seconds of play being pressed on I Still In Faith In You, any doubts were banished.
As the familiar melancholic yet joyous lyrics, soaring strains and subtle hooks of the Swede’s first song in more than a generation played out, backed by archive footage from their heyday, it proved unexpectedly emotional. ABBA were back, transporting fans everywhere to simpler, safer times.
For me, it took me back to Christmas 1976, my first radio cassette player and a cassette of ABBA's Greatest Hits. Tracks like Another Town, Another Train, People Need Love, Ring Ring and Nina Pretty Ballerina were played until the tape stretched, probably much to the relief of the neighbours.
Nonetheless, the emotion on hearing that first new track took me by surprise. It brought with it memories of family now gone, of places and times without the stresses of today. As someone who believes music allows us all an escape and opportunity to grow in our youth, it also offers a release and return there as adults.
Seeing Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid gather around a piano, visibly older, was a reminder of not just theirs but our own mortality and I couldn't help reflecting how lucky we are to still have all four of them.
As Bjorn and Benny revealed the new album, ABBA Voyage, and that the long hinted at avatar concerts would take place in a purpose-built arena in London's East End, you could feel ABBAmania taking hold again. Then came the second new track, Don’t Shut Me Down, a good old-fashioned dance-floor filler and a compliment the first, a power ballad. Again, pure ABBA. Both songs will undoubtedly be global hits.
At the first of two pre-sales for the concert series, despite finding myself number 5,324 in the queue for the performance of my choice, just 12 minutes later I had my tickets.
I can't wait. Yes, I know we'll be watching avatars, but that works for me. Recorded by Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid in motion capture suits to create digital versions of themselves, those concert performances have then been brought together with avatars of them in their prime, the concert will be Industrial Light & Magic's (founded by George Lucas) first foray into music.
It’s ground-breaking stuff and a clever alternative to having four 70-somethings out on the road. That's a young person's game or, indeed, an ABBAtar's.