The story of Abba’s 2021 reunion album, their final studio outing but also their first for some 40 years, hardly needs further comment such has been the media interest and saturation already.
Voyage may have divided both critical and fan opinion (doesn’t everything these days?) but the arrival of the official sheet music book from Hal Leonard offers an opportunity to consider the merits of the songs in their own right, stripped of their production.
Resistance is probably futile, so we had best take a look…
The Voyage Songbook
The official, artist-approved songbook for ABBA’s highly-anticipated ninth studio album arrives as expected in apparel to match the CD release:
Each song is arranged for piano, voice and guitar, complete with chord symbols, chord diagrams and full lyrics. On the off-chance that you are reading this review without having checked out the recording already, the titles are:
- I Still Have Faith in You
- When You Danced With Me
- Little Things
- Don’t Shut Me Down
- Just a Notion
- I Can Be That Woman
- Keep an Eye on Dan
- No Doubt About It
- Ode To Freedom
The book itself is a fairly simple, but effective and classy affair. Other than a contents page there is no preamble at all. The 68 pages are printed on high grade white paper, the notation is well spaced and carefully engraved.
Nothing at all is out of place here: as a songbook, this is spot on. The only things debatably missing are an introduction with background insights by the artists themselves, and perhaps a few pages of celebratory souvenir glossy artist photos. Personally I can live without the latter, but the former would have been nice.
Transcriptions of the Voyage
If songbooks such as this have perhaps become less glossy that they were a decade or two ago, this is more than compensated by the improvement in the transcriptions. Here they really are exemplary.
The PVG format makes the book accessible to a wide range of literate musicians, whether approaching the music using the super-accurate piano scoring, using chord symbols or tab, or following the single melody line. In all cases, listening to the Abba recording will of course enrich a player’s understanding and interpretation, but the notation itself conveys the songs with aplomb.
Are they good songs? Well that’s really a matter of opinion. Personally, I found that the opportunity to explore them in written format has elevated my evaluation. And of course the joy of a publication such as this is that it as equally useful for recreating the sound of the original as it is for developing ones own “cover version” alternative.
Obvious highlights include Don’t Shut Me Down (perhaps the track most likely to be deemed an Abba classic), I still Have Faith in You (which transcends its own corniness to deliver authentic pathos) and, for the fun-loving pianist at least, the joyous shuffle of Just a Notion.
In all cases, the songs are composed by the partnership of Benny Andersson (music) and Björn Ulvaeus (lyrics), surely one of the greatest songwriting teams of the last fifty years. Need I really say more?
As has been pointed out by commentators elsewhere, Voyage is an album equally arousing both impossibly high and curiously low expectations. Abba have nothing to prove, having made one of the most significant and deeply embedded contributions to contemporary culture.
That this album exists at all is cause for celebration. That some of the songs, at least, compare favourably to the best of their heyday gives us still more to be grateful for, and that Hal Leonard have brought us such a well produced and carefully transcribed publication seems to me the icing on the cake.
Die-hard Abba fans will probably have already purchased this. For those sitting on the fence, why not give it a try? These are, quite simply, feel-good songs. And we’ve never needed them more…
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