(Almost) ABBAsolutely Fabulous

Some surprisingly moving moments amid the laughs.

Sure, it's easy to mock ABBA's simplistic tunes, a no-brainer to malign the

group's legendarily wooden live shows, and ridiculing the singers'

phonetic enunciation is as effortless as shooting gerbils in a barrel.

But there was a time when Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida were second

only to Volvo as a vast Swedish cash machine, pumping out profits with

every album hot off the pop assembly line (they've sold 300 million of the things, after all).

Part of the reason for their massive success is a knack for writing songs that are catchier than the common cold. Just try to listen to "Dancing Queen" or "Waterloo" and not have their insipid choruses echoing in your head for hours, if not days. It doesn't matter if you despise the group or revere them ... there you'll be, going about your business, appearing to be a functioning member of society while the idiot refrain repeats: "See that girl, watch that scene, dig it, the dancing queen." You'll find your feet moving involuntarily to the beat ("young and sweet, only 17").

While you've got happy feet in spite of yourself, you may as well

check out this tribute album. Released to honor the 25th anniversary

of the "Swedish Fab Four's" breakthrough moment (winning the 1974

Eurovision Song Contest), it's made up of 17 renditions from the ABBA

repertoire. While none of the songs here were recorded expressly for

this homage, Relativity has collected a wide variety of covers from

around the world. Consequently, there are only a few performers here

that will be even faintly familiar to American ears since the big

names stayed away in droves. The closest we've got to actual star

power is Bananarama ("Waterloo") and Erasure ("Take A Chance on Me").

Among the more tepid offerings, we have Sweden's Army of Lovers and

their painfully corny rendition of "Hasta Manana," with its redundant

chorus and clunking attempts to turn a dramatic turn of phrase ("until

we meet again, don't know where don't know when ... hasta manana until

then"). Taiwan's CoCo Lee offers one of three versions of "Dancing

Queen," managing to sound more like ABBA than original group member

Frida does on her rendering backed up by a Swedish band called The

Real Group.

Redemption is found in an unlikely source: Evan Dando sighs his way through "Knowing Me, Knowing You" with poignant desperation. The

seemingly implausible pairing of the former Lemonheads frontman and

this once-perky track is inspired. An acoustic guitar is the only

accompaniment to Dando's resigned delivery; when he breathes, "We just

have to face it this time, we're through," we believe him. And he

makes the line, "Breaking up is never easy I know, but I have to go/

Knowing me, knowing you it's the best we can do" nearly heartbreaking.

After "Muriel's Wedding" and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" --

movies that both relied heavily on the band's hits -- ABBA has

undergone a revival of sorts. Although the members themselves have

made it clear that they'll never re-form, they're as fresh and

relevant as ever, at least in some hearts. Clearly that's the case for

most of the players here. Sofia and Michael B. Tretow's passionate

interpretation of "S.O.S." may be lacking in finesse, but the pair

make up for it in pure ardor. Of course, Tretow's got a lot invested

in the ABBA mystique, having been sound engineer on all of their

recordings. The German group E-Rotic's cover of "Money Money Money"

faithfully reproduces the frenetic disco beat that made ABBA

indispensable dance music once upon a time.

Love 'em or hate 'em, you've got to admit that it's hard to forget

ABBA. And so long as there are cover bands in the world, we won't have

to.