What do you think of the new ABBA songs?

I spent a lot of the day answering questions from friends, family and colleagues. You know how it is, though. You’re trying to do your job (Friday always has lots of deadlines I need to meet), and there’s a pop up message which you answer quickly, ignore, or promise yourself to get back to later in the day.

The questions, today, weren’t especially complex. They often didn’t involve a simple “hi, hello” greeting. No context was needed. They just simply asked, “so, what do you think?”

They all wanted to know what I thought of the new ABBA songs, released less than 24-hours ago “I don’t think I know yet. I think I need time to think, to write down my thoughts and feelings first”, I’ve told most of them.

And that’s mostly why I’m writing this blog post, to make some sense of it all.

I’ve actually appeared three times on different ABC Radio stations in the last 24-hours, since I’m considered a bit of an “ABBA Expert” amongst my colleagues. They’ve all asked similar questions. “What do you think of the songs. What do you think of the holograms they’re using, rather than their 70-something selves who are in the video clips and will appear in the stage show”, that kind of thing.

ABBA, now aged in their 70s, dressed up in outfits used to create the holograms in the video clip and in the forthcoming live shows
And here are the holograms (or whatever they are). When I spoke on ABC Radio with Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck, I told them someone had posted “They look like Star Trek meets Tomb Raider”. Wendy laughed so hard!!

Probably the hardest question I was asked was by Angela Catterns from ABC North Coast. Ange is a legendary Australian radio announcer, best known from her days at Triple J and ABC Radio Sydney. I first came to know her from her days as a reporter on the TV show, Simon Townsend’s Wonder World which I watched as a child, growing up here in Lismore. In an earlier life, Ange worked at the local commercial radio station here in Lismore, 2LM.

She’s semi-retired and living back here now, doing the Saturday Breakfast Show. We recorded an interview today which she’ll put on the radio tomorrow (Saturday).

Before we started recording, she told me a close friend of hers, a well known Australian composer, had said to her “their production is always perfect”. “Yes, it is”, I agreed, “but there’s always an imperfection too. A slight issue of pronunciation. A slightly quirky orchestral sound”, I added. “That’s what I really like. The imperfection, the honesty of it all”, I told her. This is far more evident the more deeply you go into their back catalogue, and further into their career.

Ange’s simple question, “why do you like ABBA?” required some deep thought, asking me to consider why so much of my life has revolved around this pop group. They’ve been at the centre of friendships I’ve made, the career decisions I’ve taken, the travel I’ve undertaken, as well as other artistic and cultural pursuits in my life.

On many occasions on this blog, and throughout my life, I’ve mentioned the film, “Muriel’s Wedding”. The film features Toni Collette as Muriel, the outsider who grew up in Porpoise Spit, looking for something “more” in her life. There’s a bit of Muriel in all of us, in some ways, even if you didn’t necessarily grow up like I did, in a NSW North Coast town which dreams of moving away and finding a more interesting life.

At one point in the movie, Muriel confides to her friend…

When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I’ve met you and moved to Sydney, I haven’t listened to one Abba song. That’s because my life is as good as an Abba song. It’s as good as Dancing Queen.

As a kid growing up in my own version of Porpoise Spit, ABBA represented something very exotic for me. 

I mentioned that exoticness to Angela in the radio interview, adding that the music we connect with as children and teenagers stays with us throughout our lives. “I listen to a lot of other music too”, I told her, “But I keep coming back to ABBA. Their music was how I learned about life, through the emotional roller coaster of the lyrics of their deeply personal songs. On another level, there’s the connection between ABBA’s music and the many very happy (and sad) times in my life.

A number of friends (ABBA fans) have posted comments about how they literally cried when they heard/saw the new songs. I wasn’t that emotional myself, but there was still a deep connection.

As I watched the video for “I Still Have Faith In You”, I listened closely to Frida’s voice (she has always been my favourite), and the harmonies with Agnetha. Aged 76, Frida’s voice sounds a little older, a little more fragile, with a stronger accent than which is evident in her earlier recordings. Personally, I love that. 

“You know how when you’re a teenager you can sometimes listen to the same song over and over again? Well, I’ve been doing that”, I told Angela.

“Don’t Shut Me Out” (with lead vocals by Agnetha) is a song you can listen to over and over again. It’s a smooth pop song, but every time you listen you hear something new. An instrument, a vocal, there’s lots to discover”.

So, the short answer to the question is, “I like the new songs very much, but I haven’t completely discovered everything there is to know about them yet”. Undoubtedly, there will be lots more to discover as I continue to sit in my room in Lismore listening to ABBA songs. I’m sure there’ll be a follow up blog post.

ABC North Coast

4 responses to “What do you think of the new ABBA songs?”

  1. Rod McAdam Avatar
    Rod McAdam

    Oh James, aren’t the new songs just wonderful? I’ve been listening on and off all day. For me, ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ is my favourite of the two we’ve heard so far. Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I cried a little. You can hear that Frida and Agnetha’s voices have aged, but so beautifully. I can’t wait to hear the other new songs. I’m not sure about the avatars or hologram things though, but I’ll wait until I’ve seen more of those. We’ve all aged in 40 years so it doesn’t matter to me that they have. I’ve seen lots of comments online that it’s like they knew the world needed them back at this time, and so they are to share the love and enjoyment.

    1. James O'Brien Avatar

      Your secret (tears) is safe with me Rod.

  2. Andrew Avatar

    I first remember Angela Catterns from the Sydney Olympics. She has such a great broadcasting voice and was a fun presenter. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Abba’s new tracks but stylistically they sound like the old Abba to me, and that is not a bad thing.

    1. James O'Brien Avatar

      The Olympics, of course. Ange was also the voice of the flight safety intro Qantas for a while “Subtley each aircraft is different”. I organised an ABC Radio awards night a number of years ago, and as part of the WH&S stuff, I asked Ange to record the warning… “Though you might have attended these awards night before, subtley each Local Radio Awards night is different”.

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