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BJÖRN AGAIN (Buy CDs by this artist)
Flashback!/Live Album (UK M&G) 1994

Two things tribute bands don't usually do: make records and become international stars. Australia's Björn Again — a full-costume replica of ABBA, down to the mock-Swedish accents — has done both. (As a measure of the magnitude of the group's achievement and notoriety, Björn Again engaged Erasure in a playful — and well-publicized — vinyl joust. After the English duo cut a '92 EP of covers entitled Abba-esque, Björn Again defended their adopted franchise by replying with Erasure-ish, charting in the UK with an EP of that band's tunes.)

Riding the global wave of enthusiasm for all things '70s, the theatrical surrogates (a front line of ersatz Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida, plus a rhythm section led by bassist Rod Woolley, the brains behind the clone) take full advantage of the growing kitsch popularity of a band that closed up shop in 1982. But they know better than to compete directly with their mega-platinum idols. Although Flashback! is carefully calculated to sound like a mid-'70s ABBA album, the thumping, uptempo Euro-disco renditions are all of other people's hits: "Flashdance," "Denis," "Concrete and Clay," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Band of Gold," "So You Win Again." Total garbage doesn't get much weirder or more entertaining than this.

The bonus live album, recorded in '94 in London, is — except for an intentionally incongruous instrumental slice of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" — nothing but reverently rendered ABBA classics. The stage patter is awful, but the singing is great, and it's hard to imagine that the real deal could have performed "Waterloo," "Fernando," "Mamma Mia," "Dancing Queen" or "S.O.S." with any greater verve or skill.

In 2000, a young Swedish band called the A-Teens picked up the unthrown gauntlet and released an album of slightly modernized Abba covers. La plus ca change...

[Ira Robbins]