Welcome to What’s the Buzz, feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Natalie Parks is listening to the newly released singles from ABBA, Daniel Siuba has been reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, and Don Shanahan recommends the physical release of In the Heights.
ABBA’s New Singles: “I Still Have Faith in You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down”
Natalie: It’s a good September for music lovers!
Between Lizzo & Lil Nas X’s new albums, a surprise collaboration album from Elton John, and the release of two new singles from ABBA, there’s been a lot to enjoy and look forward to.
After Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again! was released in 2018, Swedish disco-pop group ABBA announced a new album, Voyage, to be released Nov 10, 2021 as their first new music release after a 35-year break. Delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, singles “I Still Have Faith In You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” dropped on Thursday, Sep 2.
For those of us who grew up with ABBA, especially for those in my mother’s generation who listened to their first releases in the ’70s and ’80s, the new songs are an absolute gift. I was slightly apprehensive upon hearing about their new work—it’s pretty common for comebacks to be stale recreations of more exciting earlier music—but approached the releases with cautious optimism, and was rewarded.
Both songs carry the warm melodies and clever, sincere lyricism that puts ABBA a step above most early pop groups. The ’80s-techno instrumental fits perfectly into the feeling of their back catalogue—you might notice the keyboard glissando at the top of the chorus of “Don’t Shut Me Down” echoes the iconic opening notes of “Dancing Queen.” “I Still Have Faith In You” is highly reminiscent of “Thank You for the Music” in its soft beginning and slow, steady build of emotion.
There’s a note of reflection to both songs that one would expect after 40 years. “I Still Have Faith In You” is quite obviously a love letter from each member of the band to the other. The refrain: “Do I have it in me? / I believe it is in there / For I know I hear a bittersweet song / In the memories we share,” becomes a beautiful swell as the band sings it together as “we do have it in us” later in the song. It’s a perfect comeback power ballad. The music video features bloopers and behind the scenes footage from earlier in their career, and is certain to draw tears from their most devoted fans.
“Don’t Shut Me Down” is a retrospective on love the second time around, from the perspective of someone a little older and wiser: “I’m not the one you knew / I’m now and then combined / And I’m asking you to have an open mind now.” The song has a more traditional disco dance beat that walks that perfect ABBA-esque line of genuine emotion and fun. The chorus is certainly among their most catchy, with a simple lyrical twist: “And now you see another me, I’ve been reloaded, yeah / I’m fired up, don’t shut me down / I’m like a dream within a dream that’s been decoded / I’m fired up, I’m hot, don’t shut me down.”
Some early reviews have commented that the songs are a bit saccharine…I might ask such critics if this is the first time they’ve ever listened to ABBA. Much of the band’s discography lacks cynicism. It’s okay if it’s not your thing, I just don’t think there’s an argument that it isn’t “really ABBA.”
ABBA’s music lives in a world that sees through rose-colored glasses and allows us to explore emotions with glittery lyrics. They’re the pinnacle of the disco era. They’re campy and funny and genuine–that’s why people love them. Even their goofiest, arguably least emotional hits like “Money Money Money” are charming and f***ing fun because of the conviction of the lyrics and the vocal performances. That’s why their music holds up. It’s sincere.
2021 could definitely use a little disco. Lighten up and let the synth wash over you.