Friday, September 17th, 2021

ABBA – Don’t Shut Me Down

…and not too old for sex.


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[8.00]

Nortey Dowuona: 8 seconds in: classic, masterwork, genius, greatest contribution to human civilization. 41 seconds in: MARVELOUS. FANTABULOUS. GOBSMACKING. SPLENDIFEROUS. 2 minutes, 21 seconds in: it’s aight. 3 minutes, 57 seconds: Oh, come on in, all four of you. I ordered some pineapple pizza and I think we have a lot to discuss.
[10]

Kayla Beardslee: It’s not often that I feel truly grateful for any part of this stupid world we live in… but new ABBA? New ABBA that sounds as big and uplifting and classic as any of their best work?? New ABBA??? This is a blessing. I’m happy. Thank you.
[9]

Claire Biddles: It’s odd that the Voyage project was launched with “I Still Have Faith In You” when “Don’t Shut Me Down” serves as a ready-made opening montage for ABBA’s Big Comeback: wistful imagery of a children’s playground! An allusion to the Greatest Hits bench becoming unable to comfortably hold the narrator’s hopes and dreams! A whisper of “Voulez-Vous” minor chords giving way to whooshing strings and a piano chorus! “I’m asking you to have an open mind” stings almost as much as “Gonna be around if you’ve got no place to go”. As with their most diligent students, ABBA write their most hopeful songs with a subtle desperation that suggests they already know the result is going to be rejection, even after forty years of rumination.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Like many ABBA songs, “Don’t Shut Me Down” is about itself. “I believe it would be fair to say/You look bewildered,” they sing. I believe it would be fair too. Then the amiably midtempo electrochug begins. It was never whether Benny ‘n’ Bjorn would lose their skills: craftsmen don’t forget how to make chairs; rather, it’s whether they could write a song for Agnetha and Frida that could resonate. “Don’t Shut Me Down” is a job well done. Now come up with an even better jam.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: If you’re into what-ifs with ABBA, this answers most of them. What if Agnetha, a few years after “The Winner Takes It All,” showed up at Björn’s party would he have her, would he want her doorstep? What if they’d gone to Eurovision again? This sounds similar enough to “Främling,” one of my favourite Eurovision songs, so if ABBA had still been around in 1983, they could easily have produced a song like this. What if the story was never paused, and instead fast-forwarded? ABBA are doing what they always did, using a lot of the same production and melodic tricks that thrilled me so much when I learned about how they recorded their classics. Brand new, but perfectly consistent, a dip into the past that’s still alive despite never actually existing. “Don’t Shut Me Down” is a really good ABBA single. It wouldn’t be among the best on ABBA Gold, but it wouldn’t be shamed next to most of them either.
[8]

Juana Giaimo: The thing about nostalgia is that it doesn’t have to be autobiographical — in fact, most of the time it’s more powerful when it isn’t. There is something so warm and reassuring in hearing an ABBA song that doesn’t pretend to be trendy, but instead goes for almost every ABBA cliché sound. It’s as if we were in that past I never lived. And I like it.
[7]

Alex Clifton: I’m sold from that keyboard glissando. I never thought I’d get to say the phrase “new ABBA just dropped,” let alone that the material would be good. Is it new ground? No. I don’t care. I come to ABBA for catchy songs that make me happy to be alive, and they’ve delivered just as well as they did back in the day. It’s honestly brilliant to know that I will always be able to depend on ABBA to make excellent pop music — however silly it sounds, it’s a reassurance that good things still exist in the world.
[10]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: This feels like it was written to be used in a particularly violent segment of an Edgar Wright movie. Perhaps the past two decades have poisoned me against earnestness, demanding it to be either angry or ironic. I could envision myself dancing to this, but not without embarrassment.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The ABBA Gold of ABBA writing, Tom Ewing’s One Week One Band series, pre-emptively addresses the most obvious objection to this: “Middle-managers need to dance as much as anyone else — if my love of ABBA is partly rooted in the fact that they were a sentimental, uncool band writing for and about grown-ups, I’ve also got to accept that what sentimental uncool grown-ups want to shake a leg to might not quite be my thing.” But that blurb was about “Does Your Mother Know,” which has not aged especially well — in particular one notices in 2021 how the boundary is set juuust past where it should be — and yet compared to this sounds like a coke-fueled, sequin-spewing, desperately alive giant dynamo. “Don’t Shut Me Down” feels like the work of a group enamored with all the ABBA tricks — the piano skip from “Waterloo,” the strings from “Dancing Queen,” the slightly off-kilter andante-andante of their midtempo songs — and fluent in all the shaggy ABBA stories, but wholly sapped of the ABBA energy. Agnetha going all Grizabella Caroline Lamb at her turbulent bygone lover (the word “ex” feels un-ABBA) while exulting in her fired-up dream within a dream should be why pop music exists, and yet here ABBA — ABBA! sound indifferent. It’s startling to hear the first and most formative band I ever loved suddenly seem unsure of why they existed. These should not have been released.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s classic ABBA. A dazzlingly cohesive victory lap for so many sonic signatures, with a metatextual richness nonpareil. The corporeal and hyperreal merge at the head, heart and feet; more present with every swoop and swell. Some things aren’t supposed to happen, but when those harmonies arrive in the chorus, it feels like they’ll never cease.
[9]

Ian Mathers: One understandable reaction to new ABBA songs is simply wondering if anyone would care about them if they weren’t by, well, ABBA. But that almost gets it backwards; the simple fact is that new ABBA songs were going to come to us freighted down with their context, and one of the great challenges the quartet faced, especially with these initial singles, was dealing with that. The idea that this group could somehow slip away from their context beggars belief even more than it normally does; the best they could do, really, was to lean into it, to make it not just part of the song, but to turn it — the songs nearly everyone loves, the indelible visual presence, the way they ended, the relationships, the associations we have with their work, and on and on — into tools rather than millstones. It is, in an odd way, one of the things Marvel most successfully brought to movies from the comics; the part of human nature that tends to find things we’ve known or followed or loved for years powerful in a way that any solitary work can’t quite manage, especially as it reaches some critical point (an ending, a conflict, sure, but also just a return). To return after years, let alone decades, with two songs that sound any better than embarrassing seems like a low bar to clear… until you consider all the great artists who haven’t managed it. To have those two songs exhibit many of the strengths and potential weaknesses of ABBA’s classic material; again, the difficulty of achieving this should not be underestimated. There will be those, as with any art, for whom this simply doesn’t work, or who reject or even are unaware of the context that for many of us will enhance these songs. And I’m sure I’d even be able to perceive and agree with some of the things they’d say; if either of these came close to feeling unearned, I’m sure they’d also feel mawkish, maybe a bit stodgy, too polished, maybe glib. All things you could say about anything on ABBA Gold. All I really know is that I was afraid this would be another “comeback”, and as each song started I felt relief that they at least felt like ABBA, even as I thought “OK, this is fine, but…”. And yet by the end of my first listen to both songs I felt inexpressibly moved. It’s not just that I found myself humming the songs and wanting to listen to them again. It’s that I found myself feeling grateful for them, and kind of in awe of ABBA for making me feel that way. If I’m being tricked, is it any worse or more illegitimate than the tricks any great pop music plays?
[10]

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One Response to “ABBA – Don’t Shut Me Down”

  1. I really did not think we would be getting sidebar-worthy ABBA in 2021, and yet here we are.

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