ABBA DO— Sure, there have been some terrific revivals this year, but topping them off must be the fact that after 40 years, ABBA is back. Here’s the official news via Variety:
It’s hard to think of any group of performers that got back together after 40 years apart, and ABBA has not half-stepped the announcement of its return.
While it was first announced rather vaguely three and a half years ago, they waited until the time was ripe to do it officially: Via a global livestream that was also aired at special fan events all over the world (including one in New York just hours after record-breaking rainfall and flooding), we got two brand-new songs — the first new material from the group in nearly four decades — news of an album due on Nov. 5, and what seems to be a completely groundbreaking virtual concert that will premiere in a specially built London arena next May.
The center of the hour-long livestream was a long interview with the group’s songwriters, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, where they talked about the new songs, the album and the concert, which will feature avatars (if the official name isn’t “ABBAtars,” it should be) of the four members — Andersson, Ulvaeus and singers Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — that were painstakingly created by more than 100 digital artists and technicians from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic special-effects company.
Of the album’s creation, Andersson said simply, “First it was just two songs, and then we said, ‘Maybe we should do, I don’t know, a few others? What do you say, girls?’ They said yes, then I said why don’t we just do a whole album.”
The lead song is the ballad “I Still Have Faith in You,” which actually has a similar feel to tracks from the group’s most recent album, “The Visitors” (odd as it seems to say that about an album released in 1981). Also like songs from that album, it’s about the members of ABBA and what they’ve meant to each other.
“When Benny played the melody, I just knew it had to be about us,” Ulvaeus said. “It’s about realizing that it’s inconceivable to be where we are [today] — no imagination could dream up that, to release a new album after 40 years, and still be the best of friends and still be enjoying each other’s company and have total loyalty. Who has experienced that?”
Asked what the album’s songs and their themes are like, Andersson said, “It’s a little mixture of everything, like it has been on our records throughout the years. We have a little Christmas tune, it’s called ‘Little Things,’ and there are a number of pop songs as well.”
Crucially, the two new songs also are age-appropriate for the septuagenarian members: They’re classic ABBA songs that don’t try to adopt new styles or even revive the more dance-oriented sounds of the group’s past.
“We’re not competing with Drake and all these other guys,” Andersson laughed. “We can’t, because I don’t understand the ingredients in the songs that work today, so it’s impossible to emulate. I don’t mind Drake, I just don’t know what modern pop artists are doing.”
Ulvaeus continued, “At our age, there’s a certain depth to the whole thing, musically and lyrically, and of course the way [Fältskog and Lyngstad] sing and the way they deliver. There’s a lot of experience and a lot of years in that that I hope people can feel.”
As for the show, ILM’s artists and technicians meticulously filmed the bandmembers performing a 22-song setlist over the course of five weeks — and then essentially reverse-aged them using digital technology.
Ben Morris of ILM said, “They got on a stage in front of 160 cameras and almost as may genius [digital] artists, and performed every song in this show to perfection, capturing every mannerism, every emotion, the soul of their beings — so that becomes the great magic of this endeavor. It is not four people pretending to be ABBA: It is actually them.
The concept is essentially ABBA today performing as their younger selves, Morris continued. “We create Abba in their prime — 1979 — as digital characters that we will then use performance-capture techniques to animate and perform them and make them look real,” he said. “That [process] started with present-day ABBA: We did performance-capture with them, and that’s formed the basis of the whole project.”
“We have really infused ourselves into these avatars in so many ways,” Ulvaeus added.
As for the big question — the songs they will perform in the show — Andersson said, “It’s sort of a greatest hits, I’d say, but [also] we tried to play a couple of songs that were not great hits but that we like.
“‘Dancing Queen,’ is going to be in it,” he said to cheers from the audience, “It’s 22 songs, and hour and a half approximately, and also those two new songs we released today.
“We hadn’t recorded the other [new] songs when we [filmed] this motion thing,” he continued, “but we said maybe we should do a couple more because it was so joyful to be together in the studio again, the four of us. Hearing Agnetha and Frida go for it again — and not knowing, really, if it was still there.”
Ulvaeus expanded on that reunion to Apple Music in an interview released Thursday, “We’d see each other every now and then, but it was especially clear when we were in the studio for the first time for this album, together, because that was so strange and wonderful at the same time. Everything came rushing back, like it was yesterday.… I looked around and I looked into Agnetha’s eyes and Frida’s eyes and there was the same kind of feeling, the warmth and the friendship and the bonds, between us that, as you suddenly realize no one on earth has experienced this kind of relationship that we have because, thinking about it, it’s true, nobody else has. Sadly, people die and they don’t stay on friendly terms for their whole lives, but we have. And I’m so incredibly happy for that.”
Andersson added during the livestream, “Five minutes before they got to the studio I was thinking, ‘I should have asked if they can still sing!,’” he laughed. “But they could, and can, and have done so, and you’ll hear that.”
So, ready or not … here comes ABBA. There’s certainly no question that with the continued popularity of their music, Mama Mia (both the film and play) their notoriety has only grown. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan in the beginning … but, I am now. Abba Dadda Do indeed!
THE KILLERS PRESSURE MACHINE — I’ve been a devout fan of The Killers since they burst into the scene in 2004. Radio’s Tom Cuddy got me tickets for them at NYC’s Jones Beach and their show just blew me away. They did their entire first album (Hot Fuss), plus a terrific David Bowie cover and admitted that was all the material they had. Thunderous applause followed and they did a quick reprise of the Bowie number and the crowd went nuts. Brandon Flowers voice was spot-on every song. Awe-inspiring for sure.
Their first few albums were just sensational; their second Sam’s Town (released 15 years ago) had echoes of Springsteen and was really written about their hometown of Vegas. I mean, who is really from Vegas … but they really are.
After several additional works that were well received (Battle Born and Sam’s being my favorites), I think they’ve just released their masterpiece, Pressure Machine. Funnily enough, after all the pomp and circumstance, Machine most resembles Sam’s Town, which again was just exquisite.
11 outstanding cuts, led by “Sleepwalkers,” “Quiet Town” and “Runaway Horses,” sung with Phoebe Bridgers … who I have also come to adore. “In Another Life” is another winner; vintage-Killers for sure.
The entire album is in a way a homage to Springsteen’s brilliant Nebraska; raw and ready for sure.
Lead vocalist Flowers has the sweetest voice this side of Springsteen and brings to each song just a sensational delivery. He is one of the defining vocalists of our times. Sonically delightful.
The album is based on Flowers growing up in Nephi, Utah and each track begins and ends with snippets of recorded dialogue … I know it sounds a tad homespun, but works terrifically well.
This album joins Dolenz Sings Nesmith in my Top 5 of the year. One of those albums that restores my faith in music. Just sensational.
SHORT TAKES — Keith Urban, live on Friday’s Today Show, was a breath of fresh air. I like Urban; he writes great songs, no more than 4 minutes; has a guitar solo in each of them and effortlessly borders between country and rock. His current release “Wild Hearts” is pretty cool, but I have yet to hear it on radio. He’s got a great look (tats and soul patch) and that oh-so-wonderful Australian accent. But, I think he needs the right producer and right set of songs to bring him to the top … Jeff Lynne perhaps? …
Debbie Gibson’s first album in 20 years landed on Billboard’s Top Albums chart this week. Congrats … Jimmy Fallon is launching a show later this year called Clash of the Cover Bands. Great idea and we hear that Philly’s own Romeo Delight (the #1 Van Halen Tribute Band) is in the running already. Fallon’s production company is titled Electric Hot Dog; love it! … Remember vocalist Ellen Foley? She worked with Meatloaf in addition to turning out some terrific solo work. She’s back, performing live. She’ll be at NYC’s Bowery Electric on 10-22 … The Monkees FarewellTour kicks off this Friday in Spokane, Washington, Good luck lads! … Celeb-author Mark Bego checked out a Chaka Khan/Shelia E. concert Friday night. Bego is living the glamorous life … A Leonard Cohen docu? Count me in. More and more I realize Cohen was a true significant factor in popular music. Called Hallelujah … check this out: https://deadline.com/video/hallelujah-leonard-cohen-journey-song-first-clip-venice-film-festival-doc/ …
The next James Bond movie, No Time To Die, has been delayed three times and actually had to do some re-shoots as some of the tech displayed was already outdated. It’s locked for October n(so they say) and the studio just released their final trailer; here it is: https://www.the-sun.com/entertainment/tv/3576337/james-bond-no-time-to-die-final-trailer/ …
The George Harrison “He’s So Fine” case has been well-documented for years. Harrison lost the case, but ex-manager Allen Klein bought the rights. Some story, right? Here’s a great piece from Far Out Magazine about it: https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/song-made-george-harrison-fall-out-of-love-with-music/ …RIP Willard Scott; HAPPY BDAY Randy Lewis!
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Tom & Lisa Cuddy; DC LaRue; Lush Ice; Ben Stepley; Norman Nardini; Roy Trakin; Bobby Shaw; Wayne Avers; Joel Diamond; Robey; Perry Michael Simon; David Adelson; Roy Trakin; Carol Ruth Weber; Carol Geiser; Heather Moore; and, ZIGGY!