Not the most obvious subject matter for a singing competition founded on puppets on strings, little girls’ kisses, congratulations, jubilations, and boom bang a bangs. But ‘Waterloo’ was no tribute to boring history lessons, wooden school teachers, and dusty textbooks. It was the story of a woman’s surrender to the undying love for her man told through the metaphor of battle. Who knew? It also marked the inauguration onto the music scene of one of the world’s most beloved pop groups.
We can all name at least one favourite ABBA song, and even the most defiant dance-floor dodgers will confess to having had a sneaky boogie to Dancing Queen after a glass or two at a wedding.
So, after almost two years of lockdowns, holiday bans, enforced homestays and hideous hairdos, who but only the hardest hearted could have remained un-cheered when they heard the news, ABBA are back.
I admit, I was dubious whether a quartet of septuagenarians known for churning out whimsy pop ditties almost half a century ago would survive the modern pop scene. But they seem to be managing it, in fact, herregud (that’s Swedish for good God), they’re smashing it.
Voyage, the new album, sold more than a million copies in its first week, and tickets for next year’s concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are selling for hundreds a piece. Money, money, money? You can say that again.
ABBA are making possibly the biggest comeback in pop history.
At just under a decade, the group’s early career was shorter than some of their contemporaries, and apart from a brief resurgence in the early 1990s followed by the film and musical Mamma Mia! The fab four have remained quiet.
They rose to the dizzy heights of pop stardom in the 70s with upbeat anthems about taking chances on love, walking along French riversides eating croissants, and sneaking strange men into bedrooms after the stroke of midnight, all dressed up in enough satin and sequins to keep Ru Paul in drag races for the rest of his career.
Then in the early 80s, bubbly tunes about love turned into dreary tales of relationship break-ups that echoed the band’s own marriage struggles, and in 1982, amid sinking record sales, ABBA released their final offering: The Day Before You Came was a dreary synthpop tale of a bored woman waiting for her lover while watching Dallas and eating a Chinese takeaway–can you get more depressing?
But four decades later, ABBA are huge again. So big as to warrant a custom-built arena in the nation’s capital that will host a run of gigs probably stretching years.
And from the reactions I’ve seen on social media, I’d say the fans are head over heels with the new stuff.
The album, while not the smorgasbord of cream-topped, sugar and gingerbread-stuffed delights they dished up in the 70s, it’s no stinky fermented Swedish herring, and the marketing is slick enough to match ABBAs trademark polished melodies.
Is this the greatest comeback in pop history? Time will tell, and Covid permitting, the ABBA arena will pack ‘em in when the shows kick off next year.
And to top it all, ABBA don’t even need to turn up.
Computerised avatar holograms will whip up the crowds while Benny, Bjorn, Frida and Agnetha kick back and collect the paycheck.
Like them or loathe them, ABBA still know what they are doing, and if what we’ve seen so far is anything to go by, they still know how to do it well.