Words: Darren Scott
It's late August and Attitude have flown to LA to get the first listen to Cher's album of ABBA covers, Dancing Queen. Well of *course* she'd ask us first, bitches.
Sat in a very grand hotel suite, there's a CD - old school - marked 'St Luke's Gospel Scriptures Pt 17 of 40', presumably in case of piracy. After all, the world is waiting to bite off the heavily-jewelled hand that's been drip-feeding the ABBA songs so far. We get a sneak peek at the booklet - the album is dedicated to her mother, a fan of the Swedish supergroup.
But then, who isn't an ABBA fan? Which makes this a strange experience - we're not listening to a vocoder-heavy collection of new bangers, these are classics that we already know intimately. In fact, it makes it an even stranger experience when, at times, Cher changes the emphasis on a word or delivery of a line.
And what of the expectation that, because it's Cher, this will be an album of dance remixes? Well, it turns out we're all in for a surprise with what might be Cher's biggest album in decades...
1) Dancing Queen
Immediately it's Cher, with those recognisable vocals. She teases with a hint of a whisper, placing the emphasis on different words than those you'll be used to - the songs being as universally recognisable as they are.
"Leave 'em dancing and turn 'em on" takes a new turn, with gaps to learn in new places. But trust us, it doesn't take long to come around to Cher's way.
It's very much as you would expect - after all, you don't really mess with ABBA. So this new version of 'Dancing Queen' comes with perhaps only a tiny bit of an extra dance beat, with funkier backing music.
It fades out on a prolonged "queeeeen", as so many of us have done of an evening.
2) Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
You've all heard it. Hell, by now it's your chosen religion. Vocoder, dance beats, hand-claps and *that* subsequent mash-up that you can (or can't, technically) read about in our interview in the new issue. Did we mention that was out now?
This is everything you'd expect from mixing Cher with ABBA and is as 'out there' as the album gets. That's what Cher told us, anyway.
3) The Name of the Game
This starts quite funky, with her opening vocals quite soft - almost to the point of you not recognising it to be characteristically Cher. It sounds very '70s - very, well, ABBA.
Again it's very faithful, with that slight extra funk, with beautiful vocals that Cher herself says she struggled with because they're not in her familiar range. The song, however, is like welcoming an old friend...
Worth noting that Cher, at 72, is not only hitting notes that Frida and Agnetha were doing when they were significantly younger, she's also singing both their parts. Because she's CHER and she damn well can.
The second single. "Whatever happened to our love!" she belts. Again, we're back to slightly more BPM than the original version, and there's a return for the vocoder, albeit ever so subtly.
There's that pause and then the heartfelt: "What happened to our love, it used to be so good...." Haunting, with spooky echoes and distant fading pianos.
5) Mamma Mia
This is, again, softer vocals than you might expect from powerhouse Cher, but with lots of guitars.
The change of pace is only ever so subtle here - don't be expecting the alarm to ring for poppers o'clock for a while yet.
Once again, the vocoder makes a brief guest appearance on the line: "there's something broken hearted, blue since the day we parted..."
It's at this point we finally wanted to succumb, scream and just start dancing.
This almost feels like it's going to be an electro rock version. Fun, fun, fun. Again, the change in pace is only ever so slight. She's clearly enjoy herself.
Meanwhile, we've completely lost the plot by this point. It's CHER doing ABBA!!
This is beautiful. The vocals are a joy, accompanied by a soft guitar. It builds from the second verse to a slightly reggae-tinged chorus. Well, Ace of Base maybe. It's definitely dancier than the original.
But then, just when everything's joyful and funky, the music at the end is hauntingly beautiful.
One of THE highlights of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and where all this fabulous craziness first started. Who knew we'd be looking at a covers album and tour? Obviously this is the solo version, not the one on the soundtrack album.
9) The Winner Takes It All
Loosen those wigs, gentlemen, flamboyant gentlemen and others who might be in a position to have one snatched. This is IT.
It starts quite synthy - and actually quite Steps, a bit ethereal. Hearing Cher sing those opening lines so beautifully as the music builds gets you ready for a moment you just know is going to come.
The dance beat kicks in, with that melancholy background music and you know you just can't hear this loud enough, ever. Shivers run down your spine. That alarm we mentioned earlier should start going off around now.
She utters the line, with a pause: "But you see..."
And then it kicks in, nothing else matters, there's vocoder and basically it needs to be an extended mix that kicks in from this point and doubles the masterpiece in length. Absolutely brilliant.
Cher's mom loves this too, so she clearly knows.
10) One Of Us
By the time this review comes out it's very possible this will have been released as the third single (or whatever we're calling them these days).
It's theatrical, haunting (yes, that's a word we keep coming back to for this album) and old school cinema classic. Stripped right back, there's no beat to begin with, then you realise it's not going to be a banger, but a torch song.
Again a favourite with Cher's mom - in a tweet to us following our interview, she said that her mom cried when she heard the last two tracks on the album.
Cher's vocals are stunning - it's hard to believe this was her first song on the Dancing Queen project and she wasn't happy with it (again, see our October issue for the full interview...)
It's a slightly breathtaking spin on a classic, the music eventually fading out like a lost dream and stopping you in your tracks. What to do now? Well, hit play again, obviously...
Dancing Queen is released 28 September, which will now be a national holiday.
Read our world exclusive interview with Cher in the October issue of Attitude, out now with two other special covers featuring Andy Cohen and Rami Malek.