After 40 years, the makers of once-sparkling pop are back – but the glamour promised by this album’s two terrific singles goes horribly unfulfilled

The journey to Voyage, Abba’s final studio album and their first in 40 years, began with a tweet from their shiny new Twitter account in August, coaxing people to “join us”. Billboards across London followed, featuring images of a sort of solar eclipse, a glitter ball in a sci-fi silhouette. A week later came news of a 10-track album and a “digital avatar” concert residency in a custom-built London arena. The signs were good. Here was a band alive to their legacy as makers of sparkling pop, but also to the spirit of disco’s futurism, understanding that they had to harness the shock of the new.

In September, one of two album taster tracks, Don’t Shut Me Down, fulfilled this brief exquisitely, morphing from vulnerable Swedish noir to piano-and-horn-propelled pop-funk. Its impact was unexpected and exciting and it became Abba’s first Top 10 hit since 1981, charging Voyage with the promise of forward motion and glamour – qualities that felt wildly attractive in our messy, mid-Covid times. And so it is hard to reckon with the disappointment that Abba’s ninth album delivers, as it prefers to languish in often bafflingly retrograde settings.

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