Thursday, November 15, 2001

What a great time to be an ABBA fan in the D.C. area. Universal Music has reissued all eight original studio albums from the legendary Swedish pop group in a well-done, thorough presentation with extensive liner notes, colorful photos, printed lyrics and bonus tracks. Pure heaven for the ABBA completist. And as if that wasn’t enough, the Black Cat is hosting an ABBA Dance Party on Saturday, a celebration of the spirit of the ‘70s supergroup featuring the cover band Almost ABBA.
It’s cheesy and silly to say the music of ABBA can lift one’s soul, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And while the dance party promises to be a fun-filled evening devoted to the band’s best-loved hits, it’s the reissue of the studio albums that really captures the ABBA phenomenon, from the chart-topping highs to the schmaltzy lows, and everything in between. Above all, it puts into better focus a band whose ridiculous popularity (at one time ABBA was the greatest-selling band of all time) often overshadowed the very real merits of the songs it wrote.
Well-known hits like “Take a Chance on Me,” “The Winner Takes it All” and “Dancing Queen” shine all the more when surrounded by the rest of the group’s catalogue in a way that they do not on any greatest hits compilation. But it is the lesser-known songs that make the plunge back in time so worthwhile.
From such surprises as the Bee Gees-like “Another Town, Another Train” on the band’s first album, “Ring, Ring,” through the bittersweet “Dance (While the Music Still Goes On)” from the 1974 album “Waterloo” and dozens more moments, the sheer pleasure that was ABBA rises to the fore on these eight albums. Of course, there are some cringeworthy performances on just about every disc, especially when the band tried to rock out in a way completely unsuitable to its strengths, but those missteps actually make the group more endearing today in a strange sort of way.
Then there is the lesser cut of popular songs, which often surpasses the smash hits. For example, listening to the brassy yet breezy “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do,” from the self-titled third album, one can only wonder how such a gem of a tune (Agnetha Faltskog and Frida’s harmony vocals just shine) was ever left off of the original ABBA “Gold” greatest hits collection that came out in the early ‘90s.
As a further treat, the bonus tracks include several popular songs sung in the group’s native tongue. Ever felt a burning desire to hear the bouncy-soft “Honey, Honey” presented in Swedish? God bless you. See you at the dance party.

Cake returns to the 9:30 Club on Sunday in support of its newest release, the delightful “Comfort Eagle,” which came after a three-year wait. The fourth album for the Sacramento-based band, “Comfort Eagle” is a more bouncy collection of songs, but every bit as eclectic and engaging as previous efforts. The clever wordplay of lead singer John McCrea again is prominent, and is at its best when harnessed to propel the oh-so-catchy “Pretty Pink Ribbon.” Other standout cuts include the single “Short skirt/ Long Jacket,” which seemingly has continued in the Cake tradition of being the one song on every album to receive a fairly strong amount of airplay, and the smoothly-flowing “Commissioning a Symphony in C.”
Live, Cake is even more of a treat. Generously relying on songs from their debut release, “Motorcade of Generosity,” as much as on current material, the band seamlessly threads its way through a performance in an effortless style that is almost haphazard yet highly polished at the same time.
And of course, the thought of Mr. McCrea singing the biting, cheeky “How Do You Afford Your Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle” from that first album at the money-conscious 9:30 Club is just too delicious to ponder.

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