Arts

Albums: New music from ABBA, Courtney Barnett, Damon Albarn and Wet Wet Wet

ABBA – Voyage

ABBA – VOYAGE

IT'S the mother of all pop reunions. After almost 40 years, Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad have reformed to release one final album – an ode to their long, tangled history.

Recent years have seen the Swedish troupe rehabilitated from purveyors of guilty pleasures and Magic FM favourites to a force capable of capturing a new generation of TikTok-native listeners.

Voyage, however, should dispel any suggestion the band are making new music for cash.

This is about legacy.

Wisely, the band do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead, songwriters Benny and Bjorn opt to address the topics that affect them now: aging, parenthood, divorce, domestic struggle and, ultimately, acceptance.

This makes Voyage a strangely moving experience, given their back catalogue has become synonymous with unshackled good times.

These songs won't become dance floor staples, but they justify Abba's decision to name their final album Voyage.

It's an apt culmination to their 50-year journey.

4/5
Alex Green

COURTNEY BARNETT – THINGS TAKE TIME, TAKE TIME

AUSSIE indie rocker Courtney Barnett's third album is a change of direction. The tempos remain unhurried and its 10 songs are still caped with a cloud of feedback.

But, as its title suggests, Things Take Time, Take Time sees Barnett (34) put her usually sardonic, defensive sense of humour to the side. Instead, we get emotional authenticity and vulnerability.

Recorded in late 2020/early 2021 with Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, lockdown has inevitably seeped into the songs.

Barnett is unguarded in a way not seen before. In Here's The Thing she dotes over a long-distance lover, while Before You Gotta Go suggests a lost love.

Barnett's discovery of drum machines gives a motorik drive that cuts through the feedback, although the tempo remains unhurried throughout.

Her contemporaries like Kurt Vile have made careers out of nonchalance. Instead, here Barnett makes the leap and commits to emotion – and is all the better for it.

3/5
Alex Green

DAMON ALBARN – THE NEARER THE FOUNTAIN, MORE PURE THE STREAM FLOWS

ITS title taken from a 19th century poem by John Clare, this album was originally supposed to be an orchestral piece dedicated to Damon Albarn's second home, Iceland.

During lockdown, the Blur man returned to the music and developed 11 tracks that reflect on fragility and loss. Polaris is Albarn in mournful mode, simple electronics and beats and looped vocals before a subtle brass arrangement, while the faster Royal Morning Blue fades out into desolate piano.

The lyrics are mostly elusive and evoke sadness and sometimes nostalgia, such as in The Tower Of Montevideo, where Albarn sings "once there was cinema and we had parties" over a jaunty bossa nova rhythm.

Combustion is the most avant-garde track, frantic sax slowing into late-night piano jazz, all packed into less than three minutes and as far from Parklife as could be imagined.

With its shimmering, dreamlike atmosphere, this is an album to rank with the best of Albarn's constantly evolving career.

4/5
Matthew George

WET WET WET – THE JOURNEY

MARTI Pellow's sudden departure from this reformed group in 2017 shocked his bandmates. But on their first album with former Liberty X singer Kevin Simm at the helm, Wet Wet Wet prove their decision to soldier on was a savvy one.

Simm, a former winner of The Voice UK, has a voice versatile enough to deal with the Wet Wet Wet musical palate: blue-eyed soul, lounge bar jazz and light-weight funk. And he throws himself into proceedings with admirable gusto.

Opener Back To Memphis is a delicious slice of romantic 80s-facing pop, with a classy, shuffling beat. Simm is even able to inject some spark into In Your Eyes, where he indulges the kind of anodyne pop more familiar to Saturday evening TV talent contests.

Deluxe editions of the album feature re-recorded versions of the band's greatest hits with Simm on vocals – a decision sure to irk the departed Pellow.

3/5
Alex Green

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