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
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