media captionHere we go again! Abba announce new album and tour

Pop legends Abba have surprised and delighted fans by announcing their first studio album for 40 years.

Abba Voyage will be released in November, before a "revolutionary" set of concerts where virtual avatars will play hits like Mamma Mia and Waterloo.

The quartet, who split up in 1982, said they ended up back in the recording studio while working on the stage show.

"At first it was just two songs, and then we said, 'Well, maybe we should do a few others,'" said Benny Andersson.

In the end, they recorded 10 tracks – two of which were premiered during a globally-streamed press conference on Thursday.

image sourceVeronica Bleckerimage captionThe band first reconvened in the recording studio in 2018

The first, I Still Have Faith In You, is an affectionate piano ballad portraying the bond the four band members share.

"When Benny played the melody, I just knew it had to be about us," said Bjorn Ulvaeus, explaining the song's origins.

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"It's about realising that it's inconceivable to be where we are. No imagination could dream up that, to release an album after 40 years and still be the best of friends, and still be enjoying each other's company, and have a total loyalty.

"Who has experienced that? Nobody."

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The second track, Don't Shut Me Down, is a mini-melodrama in the vein of the Abba classic The Day Before You Came, where a woman returns to her partner years after walking out.

"You asked me not to leave, well here I am again – and I love you still," sing Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad in their trademark stacked harmonies.

Both songs will feature on Abba Voyage when it is released on 5 November, with an eye on the lucrative Christmas market.

image sourceGetty Imagesimage captionAbba's records continue to sell and stream in the millions, almost 40 years after they split up

"When we got back together in the studio I had no idea what to expect," said Agnetha in a statement. "But Benny's recording studio is such a friendly and safe environment, and before I knew it I was really enjoying myself!

"I can hardly believe that finally, the moment has come to share this with the world!"

'Actually Abba'

The new songs will also be played during the band's virtual concert, also titled Abba Voyage, which will open next year in a specially-built arena in London.

Playing six nights a week, it will feature digital versions of Abba's band members, accompanied by a 10-piece live band performing their greatest hits. Tickets will start at £21, with the opening night on 27 May.

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image sourceIndustrial Light and Magicimage captionThe digital Abba show will initially be staged in London, but could tour the world

The so-called "Abba-tars" were designed by Industrial Light and Magic – the visual effects company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas.

More than 850 people worked on recreating Abba "in their prime" using motion capture technology to scan "every mannerism and every motion" of the musicians, who are now in their 70s, as they performed.

"Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn got on stage in front of 160 cameras and almost as many VFX geniuses, and they performed every song in this show, to perfection, over five weeks," explained producer Ludvig Andersson.

"So when you see this show, it is not four people pretending to Abba, it is actually them."

How do the new songs measure up?

Here we are in 2021 with the first new Abba material since ET came out and, I'm happy to report, they haven't messed it up.

We join Abba not as the pant-suited disco voyeurs of Voulez-Vous and Dancing Queen, but as they are now – in their 70s, reminiscing about their lives, and looking back at the music they made in their prime.

The lead track, I Still Have Faith In You, is an ode to their friendship and to the bonds that have matured and survived despite divorce and heartbreak.

Starting gently, it builds to an astronomical climax, full of power chords and dazzling harmonies, as the quartet declare: "Through joy and the sorrow, we have a story and it survived."

  • Read Mark's full review of the new Abba songs.

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