As a child of the late '70s/early '80s, I was obsessed with ABBA. They were the soundtrack to my young life. I'd sing/whistle/hum/play all their songs, only occasionally giving everyone a break by switching to the 3 B's: Boney M, Blondie and assorted Bollywood numbers. While I was too young to attend the group's concerts, I kept up with their TV appearances on Top of the Pops and Swap Shop, and recorded their singles from Sunday evening's Top 40 countdown.
The group stopped recording in 1982 - so, the news on Thursday 2 September that they had recorded ten more tracks was nothing less of miraculous. It was like hearing they'd come back from the dead. I was more than happy with the canon of hits they'd left for their fans, so to be told there were ten new songs - this was almost too much to compute. Hearing Frida - the dark-haired one - sing "I Still Have Faith in You" over Benny's delicate piano-playing sent shivers down my spine. I'm not ashamed to admit that hearing her familiar mezzo-soprano voice singing new words and a melody that was unfamiliar and yet unmistakably ABBA set the tears rolling down my face.
Just like that, I was ten years old again. The years fell away. Like Rafi, the young, ABBA-loving protagonist in my novel, Northern Boy, I was once more an awkward pre-teen in long shorts and grazed knees. Mother was back in the kitchen, making a mound of Sunblest toast on the iron tava, humming her Bollywood melodies while the smoke swirled around her. My sisters and brothers were arranged on pouffes in the living room, shouting over each other, exchanging football cards and playing cats cradle. Father came in from another shift at the mill. He turned the TV over to the news, incurring groans all round.
Frida's voice may have changed in tone and aged, but the ABBA magic is still there - lyrics that ache with melancholy and the passage of time ("Do I have it in me? I believе it is in there, for I know I hear a bittеrsweet song in the memories we share"). The same mastery of melody, the clever harmonies, the layering of sound to create the comforting ABBA sound. Agnetha's new track, "Don't Shut Me Down", while perkier, still does that ABBA thing of mixing sadness into the bounce ("When I left, I felt I'd had еnough, but in the shape and form I appear now I havе learned to cope, and love and hope is why I am here now").
The Covid years have been bleak and seemingly never-ending. If ever the world needed a bit of ABBA magic, it was now. Thank you for the music, Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and, Frida. To paraphrase one of the lines in the new songs, you have a story and you survived.