London’s newest pilgrimage site nestles between a park, recycling center and luxury apartments. The Pudding Mill Lane address may, depending on one’s interpretation, allude to an earlier watermill resembling a sweet dessert, or to the medieval term for animal entrails processed at this point.
For centuries, East London, the East End, was synonymous with the slums of the cosmopolitan city, the abyss of the city, cesspool and sinkhole in equal measure. In contrast, the West End became synonymous with the glitzy world of music, theater and musicals.
In the third decade of the 21st century, anyone who wants to experience the latest attraction in show business live has to travel to the East: this Thursday, the program of the Swedish superstars, called “Voyage”, premieres in the specially built Abba Arena.
Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have actually made a journey since they first recorded a record together 50 years ago. There was a dry spell to overcome before the breakthrough at Eurovision 1974 with “Waterloo”, after that there was no holding back: worldwide success, especially in Germany and Australia, with hits like “Money, Money, Money”, “Dancing Queen” and ” The winner takes it all”. The end came forty years ago, since then the four have not acted together live on stage.
It will stay that way, after all, pop shows are backbreaking work, and people between the ages of 72 and 77 don’t find it that easy anymore. That’s why ten slightly younger musicians are on stage as the backing band in London; the eponymous cloverleaf, on the other hand, only participates electronically, as avatars or, as the cheerful marketing jargon calls it, “abbatare”.
The Abba members, who released their first album in four decades with “Voyage” in November, did the hard work last year as they sang 22 of their songs live for weeks, using their age-appropriate, slightly reduced movements, wired and filmed by 160 cameras. The resulting product has been crafted by techies into what Abba’s PR army claims is far better than any previously known hologram project.
Without the presence of their idols, can a spark fly over the up to 3000 fans who, from Friday onwards, experience the high-tech pop event, sometimes twice a day? Carl Magnus Palm has no doubts about that. The man, who calls himself “Abba historian” without a trace of irony, was allowed to attend a rehearsal at the beginning of the week. “People were dancing and clapping, it was like a big party in there.”
We meet Palm in London at the launch of his latest book, Abba at 50, due out in English in September – one of two books to be published this year. The Swede has immortalized his 30-year engagement with his famous compatriots eight times between book covers, gives lectures and readings, speaks to poetry experts and hyper fans.
Palm’s soberly and vividly written book—none of the usual greasy idol worship—detailed the pop group’s backlash to the highly politicized climate of 1970s Sweden, yes, Western Europe. “They resisted, wanted to talk about individual emotions” – this feeling has long determined the zeitgeist of an atomized society. And Abba’s music remains successful because the band “focuses on the melody”, unlike many things that are new on the market today.
He won’t get terribly rich with this full-time job as an Abba historian, Palm reports, “but it’s enough for the rent”. On the other hand, the four people to whom he is professionally interested are all “very, very rich,” says the author, naming sums in the hundreds of millions – which answers the question of whether the quartet, which has sympathetically spent four decades making the comeback that is so popular among pop musicians refused, agreed to the new million-euro project for reasons of old age and heirs.
No, that’s not the point, Palm is sure. Rather, an immortalization of the legendary melodies plays a role: the show can still play “when the four are no more”.
Well, we’re not quite that far yet. A recent comment from Ulvaeus has given London fans hope that they might at least catch a brief glimpse of the band together on Thursday. The crowds in Pudding Mill Lane, in front of the newest temple of culture in the insatiable music metropolis London, are likely to be correspondingly large.