Cher - Dancing Queen (Review)Martin_Canine CHER
I am yet to meet a person that doesn’t like ABBA. The hype for the Swedish group that resulted in an ever growing cult following can only be compared to Beatlemania, and similarly, they also have just as many classic songs every kid knows. Sure, there are also Boney M., but they only had this amount of success in a couple of countries, not all around the world. Any way, the way ABBA influenced pop culture with their massive legacy is legendary. Whether it is middle aged rockers, teenagers in puberty, housewives or your club goers, ABBA seems to unite them all.
Naturally, numerous ABBA covers have been recorded over the last decades, some better, some worse. From Erasure to E-Rotic to A*Teens, the list of artists who attempted to record the Ulvaeus-Andersson songbook grows longer year after year. It’s quite logical actually. People like what they already know, and almost everyone can easily name 15 to 20 ABBA songs without having to think too much. Now, if a new artist adds slightly modern touches to the songs while keeping their original tone and structure, it immediately sounds like a refreshing spin to the well known tunes. The question is just how quick it wears off before the listener decides to turn to the originals instead. Unlike Queen covers or Beatles covers, singers with a good voice can usually master ABBA songs without completely destroying their personality. But still, the best adaptations of ABBA songs aren’t covers but tunes like Bring Me Edelweiss by Edelweiss and Hung Up by Madonna that only sample elements while being independently great tracks on their own.
Following her role in the blockbuster musical Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again, Cher decided to release a cover album featuring her renditions of the work of the quartet as well. Being a living legend with many decades of hits to look back at in her own right, she might be the biggest and most acknowledged musician to perform their tracks apart from themselves. Of course, you’d still be skeptical before listening to such a record. For once, artists of Cher’s status often try hard to outdo the original and show off their abilities while sacrificing the atmosphere or catchiness. Plus, her last album, the 2013 comeback Closer to the Truth, was a massive disappointment, especially as the follow up to a pop firework like Living Proof. On the other hand, what helps the project best is that there were points in her career when she and ABBA shared a similar sound. The characteristic style of the group centers around a mix of disco and folk, two genres in which Cher herself had a bunch of hits in - just put Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves over the instrumentation of Strong Enough, and you come pretty close. In addition to that, Cher is gifted with a unique and strong voice, while at the same doesn’t tend to oversing her songs.
The pros ultimately listed above ultimately turned out to be the case. Dancing Queen is a collection of ten solid interpretations of the material, featuring a selection of exactly the songs off their catalogue that suit her best, and taking the signature structure and composition of the original with little alterations that come off as nice new additions, not a butchering of the classics. An outstanding achievement is Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), whose extravaganza is tripled by stomping eurodance drums and sporadic, melodic uses of Cher’s trademark vocoder. Naming this tool Autotune would be blasphemy, if anything she reminds us of what this effect originally could sound like in the 70s and 80s. Most importantly, the tool isn’t used all the way through, but to highlight certain moments - the main part of the singing features her unaltered vocals. This cover is Kylie Minogue level of disco pleasure. The opposite case is One of Us, which has several tracks removed, highlighting the singing and lyrics over the music, and again feels like an expansion of the original. Cher also adds a bit of a groove to ABBA’s greatest ballad The Winner Takes It All, which was a clever turn, as Cher’s timbre and power naturally would significantly alter the delicate tone, which couldn’t compete with the performance of Agnetha that has the ideal voice for the track. Making the song slightly more upbeat helps her pushing it further into her territory. The key word here is “slightly”. All of these alterations aren’t big, instead all they do is making the listening experience a bit more exciting. As for the other songs, they mostly remain very faithful to ABBA’s original visions. Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia! and Fernando sound almost exactly like their 70s counterparts, but sung by Cher with precise delivery. Unfortunately, SOS has much of its original dramatic undertone lost due to its instrumentations - the musicians try their best to recreate every note, but don’t manage to adapt the nuances that made the song so emotional in the first place. I can’t quite put the finger on what exactly differs, but I guess the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
All in all, Dancing Queen might be the most you can get out of a ABBA cover album, especially of one recorded in the late 2010s, but the question that everyone has to answer for themselves is if it’s actually necessary to re-record such world hits of one artist that everybody knows. Dancing Queen is a thoroughly good and pleasant listen that guarantees a lot of fun - but in case you own both Cher’s and ABBA’s versions, would you rather put on the former or the latter renditions? Of course, this will heavily differ from listener to listener, and in a parallel universe in which Cher recorded these versions first and ABBA covered them in 2018, maybe you’d judge differently. To me, ABBA had the perfect and definitive versions. But I wouldn’t exactly be bothered if you’d put Cher’s album into the player when I’m around - and Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) and One of Us are prime examples of perfect covers, the others of solid ones. But I can also imagine that over time, Cher's songs will grow on me - or wear off. Time will tell.