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Abba – ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ / ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ Review

September 10, 2021 | Posted by David Hayter
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Abba – ‘I Still Have Faith In You’ / ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ Review  

After 39 years, crippling stage fright and the bruising collapse of two marriages, Abba have finally returned with two brand new singles, the announcement of a new album and a series of live shows (well, sort of). In an age of where the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi can charge their fans over $800 to sit in the very back row of a concrete arena, it’s not exactly shocking to see another heritage act return, but Abba remain a unique case. This reunion is not about the money. The Swedish pop puritans refused offers in the billions to reform and tour the USA throughout the 2000s, and rather than simply donning their sequins and flairs and playing the hits, Abba have returned as an artistic entity, first and foremost. Their holograms will be hitting the road, while Agnetha and Anni-Frid harmonising on record and Benny and Bjorn write songs that quirkily, playful and soulfully mythologize the band’s tortured personal history.

“I Still Have Faith In You” is the nominal lead single, coming complete with a music video, but it is the weaker of the two offerings. Less a song and more piece of narrative theatre: a knowingly saccharine ballad that only Abba could hope to get away with releasing. It picks up where “Thank You For The Music” left off. Abba narrated their own demise so spectacularly, that it’s only natural that Benny and Bjorn have written a musical theatre showstopper that embraces the awkward emotional ties that have both pulled Abba apart and ultimately brought them back together. “I still have faith in you” is the key lyric on a song dominated by anxiety and self-doubt. The faith that kept Abba going for so long has not been extinguished by distance, acrimony or Covid-19. The song is not meant to be a blow away piece of pure pop music; the wobbly power house crescendo thrives precisely because it exposes the thinness of Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s vocal in 2021. When Agnetha wonders aloud, “do I have it in me”, the listener is suppose to will her onwards in spite of those nagging thoughts that it might go awry. As a piece of theatre “I Have Faith In You” is masterful, as a song it is sweet, teary-eyed and more than a little creaky.

Thankfully, any doubts that might linger behind “I Still Have Faith In You’s” romanticism are answered by the astonishingly brilliant, “Don’t Shut Me Down”. Suddenly, we are transported from vulnerability and doubt into a world of fantastical, tender, sequined, majesty. Simply put, “Don’t Shut Me Down” could have walked straight off of 1981’s The Visitors. Honestly, if someone told me they’d been rummaging around in Bjorn’s attic and uncovered this long lost anthem, I’d buy it hook line and sinker. The tone is perfectly Abba, blending the heartache of being a parent (“a while ago I heard the sound of children’s laughter”), a divorcee (“once these rooms were witness to our love, my tantrums and increasing frustrations”) and a rockstar (“I’m reloaded, I’m fired up, I’m hot, don’t shut me down”). By telling the story of swapping the harsh emotional hinterland of watching your children age and leave for the tantalizing danger of reunion, “Don’t Shut Me Down” echoes the vulnerability of “Slipping Through My Fingers” before exploding into a disco banger fit to rival “One Of Us” – were it written in the style of one of Benny and Bjorn’s faux musical numbers.

Is it saccharine? Oh yeah. Is it farcical melodramatic? You better it. Is it brilliant? Of course. “Don’t Shut Me Down” is a kitsch onslaught of impossible contrasts. In any other band’s hands the track would be a harrowing piano ballad: the story of long estranged lovers reuniting with trepidation and admiration in equal measure. But this is Abba, so this beautiful and at times overly literal anthem to forgiveness swings between disco grooves, synthetic-sax solos, cod reggae, twinkling Disney sound effects and a vocal performance that veers between the West End and Studio 54 with reckless abandon.

“Don’t Let Me Down” is improbably perfect. Proof that Benny and Bjorn have lost none of their eerie wizardry. If “I Have Faith In You” is destined to capture the headlines with its easy to follow narrative satisfaction, then “Don’t Let Me Down” is the wink and nudge to the fans who bought The Visitors and Arrival and listened to them religiously. This is Benny and Bjorn’s way of letting us know that they haven’t skipped a beat.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
"I Still Have Faith In You" is the natural successor to "Thank You For The Music" and works better as a piece of narrative resolution than it does as a stand alone pop song. On the other hand, "Don't Shut Me Down" is a kitsch masterpiece. Not only would this tale of anxiety-ridden-reunion fit perfectly on 1981's The Visitors, it would rank alongside "One Of Us", "Head Over Heels" and "Slipping Through My Fingers" as one of the album's greatest works.

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Abba, David Hayter