Album Review: Cher’s ‘Dancing Queen’
Five years have passed since the arrival of Cher’s underrated Closer To The Truth, but her hold on pop culture is stronger than ever thanks to the most iconic Twitter account of all time and a scene-stealing role in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The latter inspired the seemingly immortal diva to get back in the studio and record an album of ABBA covers. At first, I feared Dancing Queen might be more of marketing exercise than a passion project, but that perception slowly shifted with the arrival of each buzz single.
It’s clear that Cher’s love for all things ABBA runs deep and she is wise enough to realize that their cheerful bops are the perfect antidote for the doom and gloom of 2018. “I’m thrilled if the music lifts you up, makes you want to sing & dance around your room,” the living legend shared in an oddly coherent tweet. “Or helps you cry & not feel completely alone. These can be strange times. I was beyond excited singing these songs, & I hope You’re HAPPY listening to them.” And it’s impossible not to smile while listening to this zany tribute. Every track exudes the glitter, fun and nostalgia of a bygone era.
Dancing Queen, while disappointingly brief, covers all bases from dreamy disco moments and emotional ballads. And it’s the slower moments where the enduring hitmaker really shines. Take Cher’s stunning rendition of “One Of Us,” a track which strips the production back to basics and places the emphasis on her powerful pipes. The pop icon has rarely sounded better than she does against this classy orchestral arrangement. Her rendition of the oft-covered “The Winner Takes It All” is similarly impressive vocally, but detours into euro-disco towards the end… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
That’s the most impressive thing about Dancing Queen. Even when it’s not great, it’s still absurdly enjoyable. The lead single is a perfect example. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” is a glittery train-wreck of tinny beats and dated synths, but that somehow makes it even more fabulous. Happily, that’s where the so-bad-its-good content begins and ends. The title track is a warmly organic take on ABBA’s signature song that is suitably outrageous and destined to be remixed and played at gay bars until the end of time. The same goes for Cher’s campy interpretation of “SOS.”
As far as the bangers go, “The Name Of The Game” is a highlight. Mark Taylor, who produced all of the album with one notable exception, does a good job of giving the 1977 smash a slinky, sexy overhaul that finds Cher delivering one of her breathiest vocals. The fact that she gets away with the lyric, “I’m just a bashful child willing to grow,” at 72 is a testament to her inexplicable genius. I also love the electronic slant he puts on “Waterloo,” which now sounds like a lost ’80s classic. (Don’t worry, those iconic keys are present and accounted for).
As expected, the band’s biggest hits are treated with kid gloves. “Mamma Mia” has been covered to death at this point, but Cher’s version is so playful and well-intentioned that it’s impossible to resist. “Fernando,” on the other hand, sounds disarmingly faithful to the original, which is probably due to the fact it was co-produced by ABBA’s own Benny Andersson. It has a warm, live feel that was so peculiar to ABBA’s ’70s fare and that sound really suits our heroine’s soaring vocals. I particularly love the dramatic finale.
It’s hard to single out the best song on an album this critic-proof, but the arrangement of “Chiquitita” is a thing of great beauty. It’s also the least karaoke-sounding track given the great diva’s ability to come at the strikingly-pretty love song from a completely different perspective. You already know if Dancing Queen is the album for you. If Cher is your religion or you’re just feeling nostalgic for Swedish pop of yesteryear, buy a copy of now. You won’t regret it. If none of that applies to you, then save your coins for the new Post Malone or whatever miserable people are listening to these days.