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FIRST LISTEN REVIEW: Cher’s new single is the gayest thing we’ve ever heard

FIRST LISTEN REVIEW: Cher’s new single is the gayest thing we’ve ever heard

Cher is back

Last month, I was blessed enough to come within a few feet of Cher at a London press conference for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the hit movie based on the songs of ABBA. In it, the Oscar-winning actress provides a scene-stealing turn as glamazon grandmother Ruby.

Watching the star field random questions about guilty pleasures (‘I ate three candy bars’) and the films she used to watch with her mother (‘Mildred Pierce’), her rendition of Fernando ringing in my head like tinnitus, an unexpected query took form in my mind. Would ABBA somehow feature on her upcoming album? And wouldn’t that be overkill?

The idea seemed so wrong – and yet so right.

I raised my hand to ask and, alas, was not selected. Days later, in a Today Show interview, Cher revealed the album would be comprised of ABBA covers. I kicked myself.

‘Like chocolate and peanut butter, Cher and ABBA just work’

Today, sneaking an advance listen before its release tomorrow of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), the first single off the upcoming album, I see how the record was predestined. Like chocolate and peanut butter, or strawberries and cream, Cher and ABBA – despite having few similarities on paper – just work. I mean, that much was clear from the film.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like the original can be bettered. After listening to Cher’s interpretation, I of course had to revisit ABBA’s, released in 1979, seven years before I was born.

The dusty, textured acoustics still charm. The urgency of a crashing cymbal, of the naked percussion sound so wonderfully alien in 2018. That said, the song’s message of sheer need; where loneliness meets arousal, is more direct than any released this year. (Besides perhaps God Is a Woman).

It’s a perfect pop song. Indeed, part of me can’t help but wonder what it might’ve sounded like had it been a full collaboration between Cher and the four members of the recently-reunited ABBA. Maybe it was; the backing vocals are so digitalized as to be near-indecipherable, or inhuman, like 100 Cher-bots.

‘Cher isn’t asking. She’s demanding’

But while Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad appealed soulfully and girlishly almost 40 years ago, Cher takes a different track. She isn’t asking for a lover. She’s demanding.

This encapsulates what’s brilliant about this cover: Cher’s all-powerful voice, although elevated through sharp production and futuristic electronica, is as potent a tool as it always was.

It’s much the same on the booming Fernando, although on the verses of Gimme, she glides effortlessly through an upper register that surprised me. It contrasts nicely with the song’s trademark tumbling, orchestral strings, last immortalized on Madonna’s ABBA-sampling Hung Up.

But Cher’s exactly as you expect on the chorus. Punchy, throaty, exuding wisdom and personality like no other ever will; when she elongates ‘prayer’ during the final bridge, the fabulousness is too much to handle.

Yes, the vocoder is back with a vengeance, especially on the first two choruses. In fact, it’s even more daring and provocative than it was on Believe in 1998. But so what? She’s Cher, bitch.

‘It’s not chasing trends or vying for chart positions’

Yes, there’s definitely something very 90s about Gimme, and there’s obviously something 70s about it, too. But it’s also very now. It’s nostalgic, but not cheap; it’s not chasing trends or vying for chart positions, thus it’s perfect for streaming, so confident is it in its camp, timeless quality.

Because in surveying the best of four decades of disco and gay club dancefloors, this song, for me, is about as gay as it gets.

I do balk at such an adjective. I concede, not every LGBTI person will understand such a reading. It’s 2018: from the soothing soul of Sam Smith, to the intelligent pop of Hayley Kiyoko. to the complex, intimate genre-bending of Frank Ocean, queer music consumed by queer people is generally made by queer musicians these days.

But Cher and the members of ABBA – despite all being heterosexual, the last time I checked – hold a special place in queer culture’s pantheon, and that will never change.

This song, and most likely the album, fuses the two together to produce a piercing, crowd-pleasing result. Whether you listen to it on repeat, give it a single spin on Spotify, or hear it in passing it on the radio, we dare you to dislike it, to not tap your foot along to those 12 iconic central syllables.

In conclusion, it’s exactly what we hoped it would be: truly epic.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) is out tomorrow

Björn Ulvaeus teases ABBA reunion, addresses whether there will be new album

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