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Expressions Steve Jelbert , April 20th, 2010 07:36

In about 1988 I managed to score myself an actual ABBA t-shirt, an item of such absurdist cool I could guarantee never running into anyone sporting the same. I wore it proudly, and not with irony, but because I liked Abba. By the late 80s they had been airbrushed out of pop history, which made it a memorial item, a screen-printed gravestone.

Sadly though, like many good obscure or forgotten things, Kurt Cobain ruined it by declaring his undying love, even hauling sarky Aussie tribute act Bjorn Again on to the Reading bill the year of Nirvana's headline show. This started Abba on a path to regaining a mainstream acceptance, and it looks unlikely that they'll ever return to the box (sadly not something that happens very often to my daughter's Mamma Mia DVD).

The weird thing about all this is that no one can go near the sub-genre once defined as 'guilty pleasures' without raising a defensive wall of irony, the dull sort of irony that sees an LA band of indie strivers called Bodies of Water writing some decently catchy songs, adopting silly back-stories and renaming themselves Music Go Music (MGM= glamour, presumably). And on getting signed for proper money as their alter egos, separating their music from the self-selected image is impossible.

MGM (I can't be arsed to mention their pseudonyms, as everyone must have heard this long delayed album by now) owe plenty to obvious blonde icons such as Debbie Harry, Stevie Nicks and, vocally at least, Kim Wilde (not intended as a compliment incidentally). Pat Benatar's strident pomp-pop is a key influence (yet who remembers her hair colour now?). Expressions is an instant 'best of', every track a putative hit with nothing to compare to the filler that cluttered Abba's early albums, where Bjorn and Benny's love of Little Feat and Steely Dan found concrete (and usually rubbish) expression.

So 'Light of Love' is Eurovision boogie, circa 1975, with added Lloyd-Webber-isms, 'Thousand Crazy Nights', a missing link between Love and Fleetwood Mac, is fashionably Glee-ful, and 'Reach Out' covers so many 70s bases, from prog to disco, it's like finding prawn cocktail, spag bol and black forest gateau on the same plate. Neat muso touches abound, to keep the lads in the band interested.

But MGM's best moments are their most absurd. 'Love, Violent Love' is as daft as its title suggests, a bit like your mum announcing that she's into the odd bit of BDSM, or 'slap and tickle' as it was known in the 70s. 'Just Me' is merrily gloomy, like Sunday Girl on her way to confession. Best of all is the anthemic 'Explorers of the Heart', unaccountably yet to be released as a single, as it's all ELO going New Wave but with a wistful minor key introduction worthy of Abba, again. Though the interminable 'Warm In The Shadows' does authentic disco-rock down to the rototoms and claps with Steve Harris on funk bass and a flashy guitar solo. It probably should have stayed on an imaginary 12 inch single and sadly the neat concluding ballad 'Goodbye Everybody' is just too knowing even for this record.

Of course, by never reforming, Abba have retained a unique dignity among pop groups. MGM have no dignity- they smell too much of cheerleader club for that- but they do have several good tunes. Thus their output is predictably heartless, but it's better than Roxette ever were.

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