Its been a few days already since Voyage was released, and here is our review with a difference! Not only are we delving into the album track by track, but we are also looking at the genius behind the music - one of the B's - Benny Andersson!
There is something constant underneath the tenderness, bitterness, sweetness, joy, sorrow, introspection, and overall emotional rollercoaster that one experiences listening to Voyage, ABBA’s first new studio album in 40 years. That constant happens to be Benny Andersson, who unarguably is one of the most prolific songwriters of the last century and who also happens to be one of the four members of ABBA.
At six years of age, Benny was given his own accordion by family members. At ten, he taught himself to play the piano. At the age of 18, Benny had already become the musical driving force behind the most successful pop-rock band in Sweden at the time, The Hep Stars. The band had seven number one hits in Sweden, three of which were written solely by Benny.
The music for every ABBA song included on ABBA’s nine studio albums was written by Benny alone or by Benny and Björn Ulvaeus. Of course, that includes Waterloo, the 1974 Eurovision song winner which introduced ABBA to the world.
ABBA unofficially disbanded in 1982. By 1984 Benny and Björn had already written the music for the musical Chess. With lyrics by Tim Rice, Chess is considered by many Broadway and West End connoisseurs as one of the most impressive musical scores ever written. It also yielded some massive hits like I Know Him So Well and One Night in Bangkok. Between 1984 and 1994, Benny and Björn wrote songs for various Scandinavian artists and films, some songs so great that if they had been released in Europe and the United States by well-known artists, we would all be singing along to them. In 1994 Benny completed the music for Kristina från Duvemåla, an extraordinary musical many consider a symphony and Benny’s greatest masterpiece to date. Time magazine called it “one of the most ambitious swatches of musical theater since Gershwin’s 1935 “Porgy and Bess.” In the early 2000s the show was translated into English by Björn Ulvaeus and Les Misérables English lyricist Herbert Kretzmer but Kristina is yet to see the light of day on Broadway and West End. In the early 2000s, Benny also started his Swedish folk band Benny Andersson Orkester (BAO), a band formed by Benny simply to allow himself to enjoy his love for folk music, but whose music ended up yielding five number ones in Sweden and four Swedish Grammys.
Fast forward to 2013, Benny, Avicii, and Björn Ulvaeus compose the anthem for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest, We Write the Story.
Benny’s natural music genius and his rich and varied musical experiences are palpable in every song on Voyage.
Scroll down for our track by track review, and listen to the album below!
1. I Still Have Faith In You
What an opening! The album opens with this timeless epic ballad full of emotion and nostalgia — thematically an ode to the bond and friendship the four ABBA members still share. Benny’s beautiful notes combine perfectly with Björn’s personal and intimate lyrics, Frida’s velvety, tender and heartfelt yet powerful voice, and the anthemic chorus where we can finally, after 40 years, hear the voices of Agnetha and Frida sing together again. The song feels like the theme of an iconic musical or film soundtrack, in this case and appropriately, the soundtrack of the four members of ABBA’s lives. Very touching is an understatement.
2. When You Danced With Me
A bright and deliciously joyful banger that unavoidably creates an earworm after just one play, When You Danced With Me is classic, catchy ABBA but with a folk melody and sound. You might ask, but when did Benny express his love for folk in an ABBA song before? You need only listen to The Piper and The Way Old Friends Do off the Super Trouper album and Arrival off the album by the same name to get the answer. When You Danced With Me’s melody could be straight out of Benny’s folk band BOA, but it comes perfectly upholstered with instrumentation and production that make the song v.e.r.y. ABBA.
3. Little Things
At face value, this song may seem indulgent and simply the result of four very accomplished musicians expressing some of their personal joys as grandparents. But we must remember that Bjorn is the sole lyric writer on this album, and Benny is the sole music writer. That fact knocks out that theory. To me, Little Things is more Bjorn’s inner child coming out at 76 years of age through his innocent lyrics, combined beautifully with Benny’s immaculate knack for classical melody, in this case with precious and perfectly written notes reminiscent of Bach — all packed in one sweet little gift box. How can anyone with feelings not surrender to this delicate and heartwarming lullaby?
4. Don't Shut Me Down
This song is what pop dreams are made of and the song on this album where ABBA earns giving all critics (now and forever) the finger. It is as perfect as anything anyone has ever written in pop history, perhaps except for Dancing Queen. Oh….wait…who wrote that? Agnetha’s unique and expressive voice just slightly lower than 40 years ago, the perfectly layered harmonies on the chorus, and a perfectionist production sprinkled over a glorious melody that showcases Benny’s musical sophistication and knack for songwriting, make this song one of the standouts of the standouts of Voyage. Notice that the word “perfect” was used sparingly.
5. Just A Notion
If you strip this song to the core and play it slowly on a piano, you are left with its essence. You then realize that beneath a very happy song there is a lot of melancholy, and that is one of the things that make many ABBA songs extraordinary. By adding an extreme wall of sound with a lot of attention to detail, Benny’s simple, tender, and yearning melody is transformed into an absolutely buoyant, catchy, joyful rockin’ song that can easily be mistaken for bubblegum. Listen to it a couple of times and you will have no choice but to happily surrender to its pleasure-infusing, serotonin extracting magic. This song undoubtedly would have also won Eurovision for ABBA in 1974, had it been written and released then instead of Waterloo.
6. I Can Be That Woman
This song is so emotional and raw it may be difficult for some to contain the tears when listening. Except for beautifully giving it an elegant acoustic and orchestral outfit, Benny and Björn make no effort in disguising Benny’s sad melody. Agnetha’s expressive delivery and the song’s serious topic is a new high for ABBA when it comes to their Nordic expression of despair. We are talking alcoholism and codependence here. Interestingly, the structure of the melody of the song is very current. With “mass-appeal” lyrics, an interpreter like Adele could easily take this song to the top of the charts.
7. Keep An Eye On Dan
This is a brilliant, tense, and unique song only a group like ABBA can properly present to the world. Those familiar with ABBA’s repertoire will instantly detect the similarity of Keep an Eye On Dan’s superb use of synthesizers to that of Under Attack, their last single of the ‘80s. They will also realize that throughout Keep an Eye on Dan, especially in its verses, a few notes are reminiscent of another ABBA song which happens to be S.O.S. Benny cleverly used S.O.S. notes here and there, and verbatim at the end of Keep an Eye on Dan, a choice which works extremely well, adding more angst to an already tense and bitter-tinged melody.
Is it coincidence that Benny references two songs (Under Attack and S.O.S.) that ask or insinuate asking for help, in a new song that is permeated with the worry and anxiety someone can feel sharing custody of a child, or is it just genius? Are Björn’s lyrics deep to the point of double entendres? One can’t help but imagine that Dan is sometimes the ex-partner and not the child.
Perhaps the lowest part of the album, the best part of Bumblebee is we get an angelic vocal performance by Frida, in a simple song that may go unnoticed sitting among other grander songs. Bumblebee’s lyrics mildly touch on climate change and may seem indulgent, but if you were Björn, lyricist of “the greatest pop group that ever was” in the words of Bono, wouldn’t you allow yourself to indulge a bit? Benny’s folk melody, in this case, sounds more Pacific Islander but the song’s instrumentation and production make it uniquely ABBA.
9. No Doubt About It
For many, this one could be the love or hate song of the album. One either visualizes women in their 70s singing an annoyingly perky and raucous song that sounds like Molly Ringwald should be belching it in a 1985 teenage film, or one hears a fun and playful song with a powerhouse vocal performance irrespective of the age of the performer, in this case Frida. The song is structurally complex and melodically sophisticated despite its Grease-musical style wrapping, again, showcasing Benny’s gifted and diverse songwriting.
10. Ode To Freedom
What a closing! As epic and gorgeous as anything the classical greats like Verdi ever composed, this majestic song (that might be a tribute to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake) wrapped in waltz-style could have easily fit in Benny’s musical masterpiece Kristina Från Duvemåla. It is a perfect ending to an album full of integrity……one that showcases Benny Andersson’s musical genius, Bjorn Ulvaeus simple yet seasoned and introspective lyrics, and the well preserved and highly expressive beautiful voices of Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog, all of which have created, once again, the magic that is ABBA.
What are your favourite songs from the album? Scroll down to vote in our poll!
Was it worth the wait?
After listening to Voyage and realizing that ABBA sound just like they always did, one might ask why ABBA decided to ignore current music trends. The answer is integrity. Artists like Elton John have ended up redoing and mutilating their classic songs with the most popular artists of today, in an effort to remain current; and artists like Madonna sometimes have ended up emulating others or on a creative overboard space, reaping dull and forgettable music. ABBA, on the other hand, (aware that all of its four members’ talents are still intact, especially those of Benny, ABBA’s musical genius), chose to remain true to themselves, and so delivering a pop album that is simply and beautifully ABBA. No need to emulate or change anything. What could you emulate when almost everything out there considered pop music was, in one way or another, influenced by you?
POLL: What is your favourite song on the Voyage album?
What did you think of the album? Let us know in the comments below, or shout out to us on social media!