ABBA prove that they can still deliver on their first album in four decades; Coldplay goes pop on their space-themed ninth record.
ABBA offer a nostalgia pop masterclass with Voyage, the group’s first new album in four decades that effectively serves as a quick ride in a musical time machine, sweeping you back to the Swedish pop legends’ heyday. Built around beautiful melodies and sublime vocals, the new set finds the outfit sticking to what they do best – creating sweet, likable pop tunes – without pushing the sonic envelope, an apt decision given the nature of the project.
The terrific lead singles – the piano and guitar adorned power ballad ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ and the disco-tinged banger ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ – easily stand out, although there are several other bright moments on the set as well. The Irish folk-touch of ‘When You Danced with Me’ is infectious; the upbeat ‘Just a Notion’ and ‘No Doubt About It’ are irresistible.
Benny Andersson (who also serves as the set’s producer) and Bjorn Ulvaeus remain in charge of the songwriting, while Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad prove that they still have lovely voices. The ladies complement each other wonderfully and sound charming even when the material they are delivering is more than a little cheesy (Christmas single ‘Little Things’) or lyrically odd (‘I Can Be That Woman’).
Voyage is, all in all, quintessentially ABBA. If you have always been immune to the group’s pop magic, then the new record won’t change your mind. Fans of their easily enjoyable music, though, will certainly find plenty of pleasant moments on Voyage. If you want depth and experimentation, look elsewhere, but if you are in the mood for a sweet dose of nostalgic pop, then this is the album for you.
Highlights: ‘I Still Have Faith in You’, ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, ‘When You Danced with Me’
Album: Music of the Spheres**1/2
Music of the Spheres may or may not be Coldplay’s worst album – an accusation that is being widely hurled against it – but it certainly is one of their most confusing. Inconsistent, incohesive, and unfocused, the record reveals a band that is being pulled in two very different directions at the same time and not doing a very convincing job navigating either course.
On the one hand, the British outfit seems so eager to remain relevant that they are willing to morph into the most mainstream version of themselves in the process. With the heavy involvement of pop super-producer Max Martin and vocal appearances by the likes of Selena Gomez (treacly ballad ‘Let Somebody Go’) and BTS (synthpop ditty ‘My Universe’), the band appears to have gone out of their way to manufacture cookie-cutter pop blandness.
On the other, the group want to try new things and push boundaries to the point of self-indulgence.
A space-themed concept album set in a fictional planetary system, emoji song titles, a 10 minute long closer (‘Coloratura’), whatever the heck they’ve done to ‘Biutyful’ (which could actually have been, well, beautiful, given its lovely melody)… everything here is a bit all over the place.
The result is a pop album with superficial space prog veneer that tries a little too hard to be both commercial and interesting but just pales in comparison to the much stronger output that put them on the musical map in the first place. Even the album’s best moments seem sonically borrowed as the band channels Muse on ‘People of the Pride’ and Pink Floyd on ‘Coloratura’. The hints of ambition may be admirable, but ultimately Music of the Spheres just suggests that a little course correction might be in order.
Highlights: ‘People of the Pride’, ‘Coloratura’