Abba reunite for Voyage, first new album in 40 years
Swedish hitmakers to release album of brand new material in November, and digital avatars will appear in London concert residency in 2022.
One of the most anticipated comebacks in pop culture has finally come to pass: the return of Abba.
Forty years after the bitter songs written in the wake of two band divorces for their last album, 1981’s The Visitors, the Swedish pop quartet has reunited for Voyage, an album of brand new songs that will be released on 5 November – including, they say, a Christmas song. Two tracks from it, the stately and epic ballad I Still Have Faith in You and the shimmying Don’t Shut Me Down, are out now.
The group – Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Björn Ulvaeus – have also announced a new concert experience in London, also called Voyage, beginning in May 2022. Digital versions of themselves (not holograms, their team asserted) will appear nightly alongside a 10-piece live band at a new 3,000-capacity venue in the city’s Olympic park, called the Abba Arena. Tickets go on general sale on Tuesday 7 September.
Lyngstad said of their reunion: “Such joy it was to work with the group again – I am so happy with what we have made,” and called Andersson and Ulvaeus “exceptionally talented, truly genius songwriters”.
Ulvaeus said of Fältskog and Lyngstad: “I was completely floored by the way they delivered those songs,” with Andersson saying: “I think hearing Frida and Agnetha singing again is hard to beat.”
Andersson added: “We’re truly sailing in uncharted waters. With the help of our younger selves, we travel into the future.”
Abba’s digital avatars were created using motion capture technology, similar to that used by Andy Serkis and others to portray CGI beasts in Hollywood movies: the group was filmed in skintight suits for the lifelike recreations. Wayne McGregor, resident artist at London’s Royal Ballet, choreographed the band’s performance, and an 850-strong team from George Lucas-founded effects company Industrial Light & Magic designed and animated the de-aged avatars from the footage.
The footage is directed by film-maker Baillie Walsh, and produced by Johan Renck – best known as the Emmy-winning director of TV miniseries Chernobyl – and Svana Gisla, who worked with Renck on videos for David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. Also on the creative team is Benny Andersson’s film producer son, Ludwig.
Both the concert and album have been mooted for some time. The avatar concept – or “Abbatars” as Ulvaeus has called them – was announced in 2016 by music manager Simon Fuller (who is not involved with the 2022 iteration). In 2017, Andersson elaborated on the project, saying: “It will take a bit of time, it takes time to digitalise a face. It’s fun that it’s so technologically advanced.” In 2018, a TV show featuring the avatars was announced, co-produced by the BBC and NBC, which has not yet been aired.
The group also announced that meeting up for the project had “an unexpected consequence. We all felt that, after some 35 years, it could be fun to join forces again and go into the recording studio. So we did. And it was like time had stood still and we had only been away on a short holiday. An extremely joyful experience!”
Two songs were initially written and recorded, including I Still Have Faith in You, but their release was pushed back to early 2019, then late 2019, but never emerged. Since then the group have continued writing and recording, eventually ending up with a full album of material.