ABBA’s Just a Notion is a rehashed outtake that should have stayed in the bin

·3 min read
ABBA's Just a Notion is the third single from their forthcoming album Voyage - Ludvig Andersson
ABBA's Just a Notion is the third single from their forthcoming album Voyage - Ludvig Andersson

Two weeks before the hotly-anticipated arrival of ABBA’s first new album in 40 years, the Swedish band tease us with another single from it, Just a Notion. The song, however, isn’t really “new” at all. It was originally recorded in 1978 during sessions for the Voulez-Vous album, but was never used.

Die-hard ABBA fans have been aware of the song for some time: a 90-second clip of Just a Notion appeared in a mammoth 23-minute medley of outtakes on an ABBA box set in 1994. That medley was called ABBA Undeleted. Well, Just a Notion is certainly undeleted now. This revamped version, released at midnight, contains the original vocals with a freshly recorded backing track.

Is it any good? It will undoubtedly keep anticipation for the Voyage album bubbling for a fortnight. But it’s far from classic ABBA. In fact, I’d go further. You can’t help but think it was an outtake for a reason.

Just A Notion is a jaunty boogie-woogie singalong along the lines of Waterloo, ABBA’s Eurovision winner from 1974, or Why Did It Have To Be Me? from 1976’s Arrival album. It opens with a pub honky-tonk piano, before the drums kick in with more piano and horns.

On my first listen, it took a certain degree of self-restraint not to belt out the opening “My, my!” line of Waterloo as the first verse approached. On second listen, the song uppermost in my mind was – worryingly – Remember You’re a Womble by Mike Batt. Being ABBA, the song’s chorus features nice piano glissandos and a typically well-turned, unexpectedly long line in which Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad sing of their hope that “everything from there on must be right” after bumping into an old lover.

Which brings us to the lyrics. Just A Notion is, as suggested, about a woman having an inkling (just a notion) that reconciliation with an ex is on the cards. Context suggests it’s actually quite a wistful song: during the recording of Voulez-Vous in 1978, Fältskog’s marriage to bandmate Björn Ulvaeus was falling apart (they separated in late 1978 or early 1979).

So the song’s hope feels suffused with sadness. Will the protagonist’s “notion” remain unfulfilled whimsy? It does add an extra layer of intrigue to things. (Also, on a different note, the lines “Just a notion, that’s all / Just a feeling that you’re watching me / Every move I’m making” sound a little creepy today.)

Overall, Just a Notion feels a bit like ABBA reheated, and sounds like the beefed-up outtake it is. The song does, I suppose, suggest that the new album will give fans a rounded version of ABBA: if recent comeback singles I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down were – respectively - the big ballad and the classic “sad banger” disco number, then Just a Notion represents the Waterloo ABBA. Even so, the song highlights the problem with ABBA’s comeback music. Their published back catalogue is so dizzyingly dazzling that they’ve set their own bar almost untouchably high.

Not that any of this really matters a jot. Voyage will still sell by the millions. And what does it really matter if Just a Notion isn’t “new”-new? After all, the band are regenerating themselves as digital avatars for next year’s comeback concerts in London. A regenerated song feels par for the course.