Both Cher and ABBA have lived several lives in the decades since they first arrived, so maybe it was only a matter of time before they found each other. As both Seventies megastars experience public “revivals” of sorts (the blockbuster jukebox musical Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again‘s almost inexplicable success can make the case that neither has ever really left public consciousness for too long), the idea of the bawdy, no-nonsense, always-evolving Cher tackling the emotional kitsch of Swedish pop’s most enduring, influential export feels like fate.
Dancing Queen, Cher’s 26th album, is surprisingly the diva’s first-ever tribute album to one artist. With past releases like 3614 Jackson Highway and Stars being entirely dedicated to wide-ranging covers of popular rock and pop songs, it feels almost ridiculous that it took her so long to find a single artist worthy of an entire LP worth of loving remakes. While Jackson Highway and Stars found a young, budding solo star Cher trying on the folk and blues of those particular song choices like they were farewell tour wigs, the 72-year-old makes ABBA songs not only sound like they should’ve been written for her in the first place but like they firmly belong in 2018, a feat considering the sometimes deliciously dated production and performance of many of ABBA’s biggest hits.
Working with producer Mark Taylor who helped seal Cher’s legacy with the game-changing “Believe” in the late Nineties, she finds subtle changes that update ABBA classics without totally stripping them of the catchiness that made those songs beloved hits well beyond their heyday. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” “SOS” and “Mamma Mia” are given just enough of a knob turn that they’re transformed from upbeat FM radio pop into club bangers, pulsating with every beat.
Cher takes the ballad even more seriously, wanting to translate the emotional weight of ABBA’s history (the four members were composed of two married couples who both divorced during their height, inspiring much darker material in their later albums). Like ABBA itself, that gravity comes crashing down towards the final moments: “The Winner Takes It All” and “One of Us” are two of the quartet’s most eviscerating, emotional divorce reflections, and Cher delivers each one with a incredible vulnerability. “One of Us” in particular sees the biggest musical shift of any of the songs; the original is a breezy, tropical, mid-tempo pop moment that almost disguises the sadness of the lyrics. But that sadness can never hide from Cher, who strips it down to strings, piano and vocals, making sure you can feel every bit of the ego-shedding on the track.
Even by the end, it feels like Cher still has more ABBA love to give, though she covers an incredibly expansive representation of the band in only 10 songs. But this is Cher we’re talking about, a pop diva who most continuously blows past expectations and never gives you the same outcome twice.