Yesterday, ABBA released their first new music in forty years: two singles from a forthcoming album. The first single, “I Still Have Faith in You,” features Frida on the lead. At 75, it is hardly surprising that her voice has deepened, and I don’t know what studio effects may have been added. But for the most part, I found this a remarkably fresh comeback, one that hits all the right notes (literally and metaphorically) for an ABBA resurrection. At the end of the video (included below) you can get a glimpse of the motion-capture technology that the band will be employing when they launch a new concert in a new purpose-built auditorium in London next year. Quite impressive, though the avatars (oops, I meant ABBAtars) do suffer a bit from the uncanny valley. The show will be 22 songs and feature these uncanny ABBAtars (which are dated to appear as the artists did in 1979) performing on stage along with a live band. It’s a fascinating exercise in nostalgia. (Though forgive my cheekiness, but I can’t help but think a bit of a Chuck E. Cheese performance.)
I’m not at all surprised that ABBA has taken this approach for their return. I still remember back in 2000 when they were offered one billion dollars to go on tour (you read that right: one billion). Agnetha, in particular, has never been interested in the spotlight and much preferred a quiet rural life. But at the time, she noted that people wanted to see the ABBA they remembered, not artists that were, at that time, well into their 50s.
Well, now technology allows us to see ABBA, all seemingly happy and healthy seniors, as they were in their glory days back in 1979. As a longtime ABBA fan, I have found this to be a fascinating exercise. I first got turned onto ABBA after watching a 1984 episode of “The Facts of Life” when Tootie is obsessively trying to win tickets for an ABBA reunion tour, one that never happened in real life … until now. (My other big ABBA moment was being in an ABBA airband at a university talent show for the song “Ring Ring.”)
But my interest stems not just from being a longtime ABBA fan but how this whole exercise captures the melancholy poignancy of human mortality. As Robert Herrick famously observed,
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The flowers may die, but the ABBAtars live forever in a land where the disco ball still sparkles and it is forever 1979.