BOTTOM LINE Mamma mia! Cher goes deep on her album of Abba covers.
Everything about “Dancing Queen” (Warner Bros.) is surprising.
The idea that Cher would cover an album’s worth of songs of one of her contemporaries would already be unexpected, even if it is somehow tied to one of her movie roles. But ABBA? The Swedish quartet specialized mainly in Anni-Frid Lyngstad's and Agnetha Faltskog's songs of lost love with delicate harmonies — two things not normally associated with Cher.
But somehow she makes this work, with help from producer Mark Taylor, who helmed her smash “Believe.” The first single, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” bears the hallmarks of “Believe,” with its heavy vocal processing and stomping disco beat, and lyrically sounds the most like the Cher persona we have known best over the years.
However, to her credit, Cher pulls these classics into her world, rather than being drawn into the stylish Europop of the originals. She doesn’t hold back on the vocals, booming her way through the giddy “Waterloo” and the sweet “Mamma Mia” to give them more emotional heft and a more modern reading.
But it’s the ballads where Cher shines brightest. Her powerful delivery of “One of Us” makes it sounds like it was written just for her. On “Fernando,” she tackles the verses with operatic flourishes, likely to fit in with the version she delivers in the movie “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”
Taylor gives Cher some great updated arrangements to work with throughout the album, adding some extra slinkiness to the groove of “The Name of the Game” and some flamenco guitar accents on “Chiquitita” to heighten its emotional impact. The only misstep is on “The Winner Takes It All,” where the processed backing vocals blunt the lyrics’ description of psychological destruction in the wake of a breakup.
But given how many risks Cher takes on “Dancing Queen” that pay off, she definitely still comes out a winner.
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