Do we really need a new Abba album in 2021?

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When I heard that Abba had reunited for a new album after 40 years, I have to admit that I rolled my eyes. Abba has always felt a bit like the marshmallow of popular music – soft, spongy and synthetic. Even Boney M. had more advantage. This Euro-Caribbean vocal group from Germany had lyrics that sounded like lines of bad nursery rhymes— “Ra Ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen” and “one-way ticket, one-way ticket, one-way ticket, one-way ticket, one-way ticket, one-way ticket for the blues”. But at least their album covers were a bit risky, with generously exposed brown skin and hair, complemented by skinny golden underwear and chains.

Abba felt spotlessly clean, like freshly washed whites. At the time, I did not know IKEA, the other great Scandinavian contribution to the world. Looking back, Abba was the IKEA of pop music: clean looks, harmonious lines, friendly but lacking in weight. Rock critic Robert Christgau once said that “the real tradition of the band is the publicity jingle”. There was still a twinge of guilty pleasure in loving Abba. There was nothing cool or daring about it. As we searched for hidden drug-related messages in The Beatles Lucy in the sky with diamonds or sexual images in Octopus’ garden, Abba did not personify sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll despite the crooning “Give me, give me, give me a man after midnight”. Fernando was about as revolutionary as Abba had ever felt: “There was something in the air that night; The stars were shining, Fernando; They shone there for you and me; For freedom, Fernando”.

Most of the time, Abba felt safe – the pop group you could take home for dinner. The songs got stuck in our consciousness, however, like earworms—Dancing queen, Mom mia, Money, money, money. Not surprising Mom mia became such a hit as a musical. It felt more like a board game than a movie. Can you take 18 Abba songs and string them together on a screenplay? It was well-being nostalgia at its peak, although Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus said it wasn’t about “recycling” as much as “telling a story on another platform”.

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Even nostalgia seems to be the wrong word for Abba. Nostalgia has its roots in Greek words nostos, that is to say to go home, and algos, that is, pain. It was invented by a Swiss doctor to describe the acute homesickness, akin to mania, experienced by Swiss soldiers. It was characterized by sadness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and weakness. There is no pain in Abba’s longing. It goes easily, as sweet as a mocktail, even when they tell us: “The winner takes it all, the loser standing small”.

So, did the world really need an Abba in 2021? And even worse, the new songs of Trip were to be accompanied by hologram versions of Agnetha, Björn, Anni-Frid and Benny. Abba fans would have grown older, balder, more slumped but the singers would be preserved under the eternal sun of the flawless group. Hologram Abba would go on tour and have his own concert hall, where the Abbatars would sing and dance as if it was still in 1977. It all sounded a little scary, more prefabricated than Ab Fab. Even IKEA furniture is allowed to show wear after a few years. Abba, on the other hand, would promise us, “We’ve done everything before and now we’re back for more, you know what I mean, Do you want (aha). “

The problem was, Abba still felt too good to be true. The main members were married; they divorced but in a very civilized way Abba and are all friends now. Jazz Monroe written in Fork magazine about taking an instinctive aversion to Abba: “When Dancing queen triggered, my response was not active resistance but ambient disgust. Perhaps it was a natural distrust of “those ridiculously efficient Swedes”, creating song after song, which was “emotionally precise but lacking in author detail.”

We could think of ourselves as Chiquitita, “oh so sad, so calm“, or feel the drudgery of”just another city, another train“or dream of being Nina, pretty ballerina, with her secret Friday night life as queen of the dance floor, while Abba’s limbs remained elusive. Their story of family poverty and debilitating shyness was unknown to us, as was the fact that Anni-Frid was ostracized as a “German girl” born out of wedlock to a Norwegian woman and an occupying German soldier. While glimmers of their personal lives appear in the songs, unlike the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Abba was a seamless drop – a black box or, rather, a white one, like a block of vanilla ice cream. To this day, I don’t know which A was married to which B. In fact, a New York Times The article on the new album comes with a correction at the end that reads, “An earlier version of an image caption with this article misidentified two of Abba’s members. Björn Ulvaeus is on the left, not on the right, and Benny Andersson is on the right, not on the left. The confusion is telling. In a sense, they were still holograms.

Yet despite all their square, Abba was a pioneer. The New York Times reminds us that long before the world knew about music videos, Abba was making promotional mini-films for her songs, most of them directed by Lasse Hallström from My dog ​​life and What is Gilbert Raisin eating? Fame. Their 1981 album, Visitors, was the first commercial release on compact disc. At one point, their management got their royalties from the Soviet Union paid in duties on petroleum products instead of the fragile ruble. And they did everything like a band that didn’t come from the English speaking world.

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Looking back, I realize that maybe there was something very simple and suburban about them, but it’s true in much of the world. Abba reassured us that it was okay not to want to rebel. As pop stars, they were low-key and low-key. Even now, unlike most of the stars on the comeback trail, Anni-Frid and Agnetha have stuck with their “no interviews” stance. They said this album would be their last. And there is this sense of self-mockery. Björn was once part of the Hootenanny Singers group, which he described as “the worst name a band has ever had. It’s so ugly, maybe only beaten by Abba ”.

The danger was that the new Abba was going to come out in a post-Abba world, perhaps reminding us that even Abba was not really timeless. Abba was part of a simpler world where the Berlin Wall stood, 9/11 had not happened, and Princess Diana was still alive. But surprising as it sounds, 2021 could be a good time for a vitamin Abba booster.

As columnist Paromita Vohra wrote after the fall of the first two songs, an “era of snark culminated in a pandemic”. Now Abba has arrived, “somewhere between aunts and angels, with a breakup song and a makeup song,” whose “sparkling grooves are perfect for dancing with yourself, handy in these lonely times, while dreaming of when we dance together again ”. It makes me smile.

In a bitterly polarized world bristling with fake news, culture cancellations, and troll armies, Abba reminds us that being sympathetic is not in any way a mark of shame. Even when I try to criticize Abba, I find myself humming Do you want and I understand that there is no need to be embarrassed about loving Abba’s simple decency and “finding comfort together, like old friends do.”

Cult Friction is a bimonthly column on the issues we constantly face. Sandip Roy is a writer, journalist and radio host.

@sandipr


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