Saturday, September 29, 2018

Dancing Queen | Cher

Before she embarked on a career that spans six decades and is filled with hits of her own, Cher was a cover artist. Titled after her take on a Bob Dylan song of the same name, her first solo record, All I Really Want to Do, is stocked with songs previously recorded by other artists. And at age 72, after years of infamously declaring hatred for her own music, she has returned to form on a whim to honor the work of ABBA, a group that she respects but that her cultural legacy matches, if not overshadows.

When their careers coincided in the 1970s, Cher and ABBA didn’t occupy the same space in pop music. In the mid-‘70s commercial lull between Cher’s early hits and her disco comeback “Take Me Home,” the Swedish four-piece emerged with an arsenal of inoffensive, ear-grasping disco-pop tunes. Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s rigid soprano voices are simply darling compared to Cher’s unforgiving contralto; Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ production and lyrics, cutesy when stacked against her songs of murder ("Dark Lady") and racial discrimination ("Half Breed," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves").

But after a role in Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again called for her cover of "Fernando," Cher is giving it another go in music – this time, vicariously through ABBA.

Dancing Queen is, in short, Cher’s impromptu ABBA-themed karaoke party. Mark Taylor, who has been the leading producer on Cher’s retainer since Believe, still produces records like Believe... so Dancing Queen certainly isn’t forward-thinking, but it doesn’t stray far from the ABBA blueprints while retrofitting Cher into the specs. The manufactured visions of the tropics, for example, are retained for "Chiquitita" and "Fernando." The powerhouse choruses of both tracks listen as perfect fits for Cher, whose voice wasn't crafted for subtly.

Cher's long-lasting stylistic taste for thumping Eurodance is pasted over a few of ABBA’s instrumental shells to supercharge the quaint pop songs into strong-armed club bangers. Cher's versions of "Waterloo" and "SOS" are amplified party-starters; the gleaming cuts tower over their predecessors with refreshed instrumentation and strengthened backbones. Lead single "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" makes the most of Cher’s now-signature vocoder and the original track’s infectious synthesizer run, shoving them both to the front of the mix and breaking them down through the bridge.

Her voice is glossed and digitized on the tracks that see the most bend toward Cher's universe, though not to the extent that it was on Believe, Living Proof, and even Closer to the Truth. From beneath the most obvious electronic magic, her voice still sounds less fatigued than should be expected from a 72-year-old woman. Her upper register, which is left unheard in most of her hits and probably wouldn't have been heard in such a capacity without this cover album, shows its stamina on "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia," two of the record's most fun, straightforward cover tracks without many glitzy vocal effects or turn-of-the-century Cher-isms.

Since the record’s conception, an unspoken memorandum of understanding has memorialized that Dancing Queen is meant to be no more than just good fun. Recorded on a whim after Cher enjoyed her cover of "Fernando" for the film, the record is an abridged ABBA greatest hits compilation on steroids, featuring only the very bare necessities of the band’s discography but hitting each of them with gusto. It's just as gaudy, flashy, and fun as it should be for an ABBA cover album from an artist like Cher. And let’s face it: If Cher is still having fun, then so are we.

Dancing Queen is available now under Warner Bros. Records.

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