By Meghan Jenkins and Mark Aldrich

A double review of Voyage, a new album by ABBA (available through various retailers and streaming services).

[Editor’s Note: Meghan Jenkins and her collaborator Mark Aldrich recently discovered that they are both fans of ABBA. Meghan’s is of the more overt sort of fandom, and Mark’s has not been. Both of them like the new album, Voyage, released on November 5, 2021. In the weeks since, the album has topped the charts around the globe and brought success to the quartet that exceeds the group’s global sales records from its heyday in the 1970s. On November 14, Billboard reported that Voyage debuted at number two on the Top 200 chart, ABBA’s highest charting album position ever. Meghan first, then Mark.—Mark]

* * * *
Meghan: My first introduction to ABBA was via the movie Muriel’s Wedding. I wasn’t sure if I liked the soundtrack because I loved the movie so much or if it was because I was actually a real fan of ABBA.

Then I go see Mamma Mia! live in Los Angeles. I’m sucked in even more … with tears and fist pumping this time. I DO love ABBA, I think, I do I do I do.

I really love musical theater, though, so again I was still not sure if I really like ABBA or if the situation that I was hearing ABBA in … you understand.

So I tested it out. One random day I just started to play ABBA songs.

And I loved it.

No other context around it, just the music. So it’s been official now for years: I’m a big ABBA fan. There’s something about their voices and the music that just creates serotonin.

It’s been forty years since they last released an album!! I am crying like a fool listening to Voyage right now.

I will be 40 this January and to think of the life I have lived while ABBA has been on hiatus, and to hear them again now …

I have ALWAYS wanted to be 40.

I have been looking forward to this birthday for as long as I can remember. Now, I’m not saying ABBA put out this new album as an early 40th birthday gift for me, but in my heart it is.

ABBA always cheers me up.

ABBA has always been there.

And now they are here again.

And my God was it worth the wait.

Just as incredible sounding, the album is reminiscent of previous songs but newer and different. All so good.

If they had strayed from their original sound I would have been confused and spent time wrapping my head around the new ABBA. But this. Voyage is pure magnificent ABBA. And I am thrilled. Immediate joy. Beautiful.

Voyage. I can’t even pick a favorite song, I like all of them. I really do. I can’t wait to hear all of the songs again. And again. Today I danced, sang along with words I don’t know yet, and there have been tears followed by cheers. Are the members of ABBA witches? How are they so beguiling? I’m in a trance. 10/10

* * * *
Here are Mark’s thoughts:

Mark: I’m a decade older than you, Meghan, so ABBA in its prime—comical and strange stage costumes and catchy tunes and all—is a part of my cultural memory. I do not remember if any of my classmates in our upstate New York elementary school were ABBA fans, but ABBA was so big and so famous for a time that ABBA seemed to be bigger than an act that had fans. If one of my classmates had identified him or herself as an ABBA fan, it might have sounded to my ears like they had declared their love of water or air.

By the late ’70s, I remember most of my classmates’ self-stenciled band logos on our paper bag book covers were in support of KISS. (KISS was also so big that I did not understand the need to declare an affection for that quartet, either.) Our school district had many foreign students, as most of our fathers worked for a huge corporation, IBM, which shuttled families across country and off to different continents, so one classmate in my elementary school, Daniel D., was from London, and he played me the Sex Pistols in 1975. I did not become a punk or a punk rock fan at age seven. I became a punk rock fan around the time that that became unpopular, when I was in college.

ABBA was uncool, and not in a cool way. In retrospect, that is a strange observation, because the group sold albums and singles in enormous quantities and, on the rare years when the quartet toured, ABBA sold out stadiums, so how can an uncool group be so popular? It was because ABBA was lumped in with the phenomenon known as “disco,” and people bought disco recordings in enormous numbers, packed the floors of disco nightclubs (even in my hometown), sold out theaters to see disco movies, and people claimed to hate disco even more.

My male classmates and I all wore our hair feathered like John Travolta’s in Welcome Back Kotter, but none of us wore his white suit from Saturday Night Fever for Halloween.

And then ABBA was gone. Not because sales had dropped, but because the two married couples that made up the quartet—Agnetha and Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid (Frida)—had divorced, and the four could no longer work together. The group had treated mature topics like divorce with an elegant honesty while the break-ups were in action in several catchy and heart-rending songs like “The Winner Takes It All,” but elegant honesty about difficult matters may be applauded from the outside and a terrible burden for those on the inside.

Benny and Björn continued to compose together, most notably the musical Chess with Tim Rice. Agnetha and Frida led solo music careers, and Frida married a Swedish prince. (Her name with title is Princess Anni-Frid Reuss, Dowager Countess of Plauen.)

I have been friends with a number of professional musicians in my life, and through the years ABBA has not come up as a topic of conversation. This silence for me only supported the image I had developed that the group was “so cool to be uncool.” The 1990s, a decade given over to cultural nostalgia for the 1970s, saw a revival of interest in ABBA with the musical Mamma Mia, but I was not interested in nostalgia. (“I lived through the ’70s and I was not impressed the first time around,” became my catchphrase.)

But in 2006 when YouTube appeared, I instantly fell into the now-familiar nostalgia-on-demand escapism: all those memories of shows and music that had lodged into my brain but so deeply that I had never thought about them through the years? The clips of those memories were all there, and lo and behold, this upstate New York kid, then almost 40, wanted to know about ABBA. One of my first “Liked” videos on YouTube back in 2006 was “Take a Chance on Me.”

The Lasse Hallström-directed music videos from the 70s became instant favorites and remain so.

Voyage is not an album of nostalgia. I’m grateful for that. There are musical and lyrical references to the group’s past, of course, and one track, “Just a Notion,” is a recording with some added vocals from the 1979 Voulez-Vous album sessions. Many of the lyrics play variations on the theme of, “We’ve all learned lessons,” but without a younger writer’s need to spell out the lessons.

Agnetha and Frida’s voices are older, of course, but their harmonies together shed the decades away. Some of the moments in which Frida’s 75-year-old voice sounds her age come at moments when a voice that age is the voice that ought to sing the lyrics; in “Don’t Shut Me Down,” the opening stanza: “A while ago, I heard the sound of children’s laughter/ Now it’s quiet, so I guess they left the park / This wooden bench is getting harder by the hour/ The sun is going down, it’s getting dark” utilizes her age as its own instrument, as does all of “I Can Be That Woman.”

“Don’t Shut Me Down” also offers a philosophically deep line embedded in a disco quick-step: “I am not the one you knew / I’m now and then combined.” When the piano glissando introduces the chorus, one can see a dancefloor light up from underneath in an imagined video.

Voyage is a brave album, but brave doesn’t get re-listens. Tunes that are catchy earn re-listens, and lyrics that allow shades and nuances to be stated but not explained do, too. Voyage offers tracks that easily take their place alongside the best of ABBA’s legendary body of work.

____________________________________________
Mark Aldrich is a journalist, award-winning humor columnist, publisher/editor of The Gad About Town, and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirty-first season:

* * * *
Meghan Jenkins is an actor, comedian, radio personality, artist, author, musician, model.

Meghan is a brand ambassador for Pineapple Clothing. Use the code “MegJen” for a 20% discount!

Meghan’s brand new internet comedy show, “Mark Aldrich and Panda,” debuted in August 2021:

The Adventures of Pizza Alien, a novel of interlocking short stories by Meghan Jenkins, is out now and is available through Lulu.com and the online book retailers Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The Adventures of Pizza Alien is available for $18.

Panda’s Dance Party, Meghan’s first music album, was released in December 2020. It is available to purchase, download, and stream on every music platform: Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes Store, Amazon Music, deezer, Tidal, Pandora, Juno Download.

Panda’s Dance Party, Vol. 2 is available from these fine music services: Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes Store, Amazon Music, deezer, Tidal, Pandora, Juno Download.

A social media influencer, in the spring of 2020 her photos of life in quarantine led to an invitation from Maxim magazine to participate in a cover model contest for which readers could submit votes. Her grassroots campaign against professional models brought her to a third-place finish.

Meghan is the founder and host of the live comedy improv show The The Ding Wrong Show, recorded on Zoom and seen on YouTube:

In 2018-’19, she was one of the feature performers in the longest running improv comedy show at The World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood, California, The Ding Dong Show.

From 2017 to 2018, she was the host of her self-titled podcast, The Meghan Jenkins Show, which is available on iHeart Radio, Apple Podcasts, and Soundcloud:

____________________________________________
Follow Meghan on Instagram!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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