Cher didn’t need to do anything.
A well-documented non-fan of her own work (and certainly not too keen on Madonna, either), the 72-year-old living legend could have easily kicked off her fourteen millionth farewell tour next year with just (“just“) her twenty-five studio album discography and an arsenal of decade-defining hits at her disposal.
But, no. That would be too easy. Why? Because it’s Cher, bitch.
Five years after 2013’s Closer To The Truth, the woman responsible for popularizing Auto-Tune in pop and providing entire careers to drag queens and impersonators ’round the world is back, graciously, with a twenty-sixth collection.
Only this time, she’s the one doing the impersonating.
Inspired by her Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again! moment over the summer, Cher decided to step into the studio with longtime collaborator Mark Taylor (of “Believe” fame, among many others) to record a handful of ABBA covers.
Given that ABBA are one of the most important contributors to pop – and well, modern music as a whole – it would only make sense that the only woman who can claim to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart across six consecutive decades took on the task.
“I’ve always liked ABBA and saw the original Mamma Mia musical on Broadway three times. After filming Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I was reminded again of what great and timeless songs they wrote and started thinking ‘why not do an album of their music?’ The songs were harder to sing than I imagined but I’m so happy with how the music came out. I’m really excited for people to hear it. It’s a perfect time,” she explained.
Dancing Queen is a campy ride, of course. Cher, covering ABBA? Camp? Can you believe?
Her LGBTQ prayer-answering cover of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” – a pulsating dance floor-filler with production that picks up right where her dear friend Madge’s “Hung Up” left off over a decade ago – kicked off the campaign in August. The song plays exactly as one would expect from one of queer culture’s most enduring Queens: the throaty yelps, the stuttering beat breakdown – it’s a poppers o’clock party in the midnight hour.
There’s not much to say about the songs, obviously: they’re classics. But despite the fact that most Dancing Queen listeners are likely already very familiar with the source material, there are flourishes throughout that make this one a Cher album, as with highlight “The Winner Takes It All,” which finds her supplying some surging beats and Living Proof-esque vocoder action. “SOS,” similarly, is put through the Cher ringer, providing a lonely space alien rock-tinged flair on one of ABBA’s many hits.
Everything evokes Cher, honestly: “Chiquitita” is divine, but also hard to listen to without imagining her sending a flurry of chick emojis at some Trump trolls on Twitter in between studio sessions.
What must send the heartrate up must eventually come down, and she does so quite beautifully with album closer “One Of Us.” Tackling ABBA at their most melancholy, post-divorce(s), the icon strips the original of its haunting waltz of a beat and instead supplies an appropriate drama with lush strings and piano, putting her voice to the forefront as she croons her lonesome regrets.
Given that the album is purely established classics, it can be an initially jarring experience, as in the first few seconds of “Dancing Queen,” with Cher belting out that iconic chorus instead of the legendary Swedes we’re used to hearing. But then, that’s the whole point. It’s Cheraoke.
There’s something so immensely historic and important about Cher, The Cher, passionately crooning “Dancing Queen,” the “Dancing Queen,” at the age of 72 – and having the time of her life while doing so. A sacred gay hymn delivered by one of our most iconic of all gay icons? If you consider it enough, you might even tear up before the album comes to a close. (Spoiler alert: I did.)
The end result of this joyous and unexpected journey into Swede-pop excellence offers the best of both worlds: a renewed appreciation for the songcraft of a band whose legacy continues to influence popular music to this day, and an impressive show of Cher’s immediately recognizable voice and emotive delivery, as she serves all of the drama, despair and delight that these pop masterpieces deserve. Six decades deep into her career, and she still sounds right at the top of her game.
The winner takes it all. And guess what? We’re truly the winners in this scenario.
Dancing Queen was released on September 28. (iTunes)
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Photo credit: Warner Bros. Records