Totally polished, perfect pop

ABBA (music group)Lifestyle and LeisureDining and DrinkingMusic IndustryBars and ClubsDisco (genre)Anni-Frid Lyngstad

Some guilty pleasures survive simply as convenient punching bags. Menudo? Milli Vanilli? The William Shatner solo album?

But when the jokes are at the expense of ABBA, they're inevitably told with affection, because only a curmudgeon could resist those songs. Even without a major theatrical production to draw attention to their work, the quartet would still cast a benevolent shadow over today's pop music from the dawn of the Euro-disco age.

The sound of these mid-'70s pop auteurs--four Barbie and Ken dolls who became Swedish pop kings and queens--is the basis for the multimillion-selling careers of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, all of whom have benefited from the ABBA-inspired songwriting of Swedish producer Max Martin and his Stockholm-based Cheiron Productions team.

Though marketed with all the subtlety of wind-up toys, the latest wave of teen sensations benefits from some undeniably well-crafted tunes. And just as there was something almost creepy about the way Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid presented themselves — that impossibly perfect hair, those ice-queen gowns and disco-dude sequined bellbottoms gave wholesomeness a bad name — there was also something brilliant about the songs themselves. The melodies brimmed with craftsmanlike touches: the percussive harmonies of "Take a Chance on Me," the French horn that wafts through "The Name of the Game," the Spector-like "Da Doo-Run Run" roar of "Waterloo" and "Ring Ring," the cascading strings and sleek R&B drumming of "Dancing Queen."

The group's sometimes wince-inducing remedial-phonics vocals remind listeners that the quartet sang in their second language, but it also gave them an innocent, fairy-tale sweetness. Their albums were larded with filler, but the hits were built with the frigid majesty of a Swedish mountain castle.

Little wonder that the group has achieved pop immortality. Nearly 20 years after their break-up, ABBA provide fodder for revivals both campy (Erasure's "ABBA-esque" tribute EP) and sincere (the career of the A-Teens). ABBA have not only been covered by their likeminded countrymen, Roxette, but by unlikely admirers such as Marshall Crenshaw and U2. Even Nelson Mandela once announced that ABBA was his favorite pop group. And whenever I hear "S.O.S." — a song with a melody so impossibly rich that it needs two choruses to resolve itself —for exactly 3 minutes and 20 seconds they're my favorite pop group too.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading