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Book Review: Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA by Carl Magnus Palm

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Much like American politics, the work of noted auteur Michael Bay, and space-time itself, most celebrity biographies exist somewhere along a single continuum.

At one end of the spectrum, you have the unmitigated trash – quickie volumes churned out for a fast buck, often in the wake of a celebrity death or major life event. Sometimes, these trash bios expand into an epic scope, some of it possibly founded in deep, dark truth that even the celeb's most die-hard fans don't want to admit. (See: Kitty Kelley.)

At the other end of the spectrum is the intensely-researched, extensively-sourced, almost-religiously-reverential biography. If you're obsessed with any particular celebrity, artist or personality, you've probably read at least one of these. They begin with the birthplace of the subject's great-grandparents, work their way slowly through every minute influence on the subject's life, and often conclude with what the subject had for lunch last Wednesday. Intense, intense detail. Sometimes excruciating.

Bright Lights, Dark Shadows is a book about the worldwide phenomenon and seventies' disco pop group ABBA. It falls squarely at the latter end of the celebrity biography continuum. (I'm going to copyright that phrase like Pat Reilly and "threepeat," because I know it's going to get a ton of mileage for decades.) The book starts amongst the fjords and fronds of central Europe and takes us through childhoods, early careers, and minor setbacks for all four founding members of the group before finally getting to what you would probably consider the "good stuff."

I know it's what I consider the "good stuff." We're talking about the hardcore dirty details of one of the most romantically incestuous bands on that side of the pond. On American shores, of course, no group can hold a candle to Fleetwood Mac; I think the last pairing remaining for them is Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham, and I'm pretty sure they were spotted canoodling at the Knitting Factory last weekend. But, in Europe, these four have the market cornered.

So maybe it's sad; I dunno. I'm probably a sad guy. But what I wanted from Bright Lights, Dark Shadows was a big heaping bowl of biography Fruit Loops, and instead I got a pile of Bran Flakes covered in skim milk. Probably better for me in the long run, but not as fun as I'd hoped.

Then again, I'm a casual fan of ABBA at best – I have boatloads of respect for the combo, but am not quite at the point where I'm ready to dive into a detailed examination of their artistic output as measured against the signposts of their life stories. I'm certain there are fans out there who want a detailed biography full of obscure trivia and reams of background, and for those fans, this will likely prove to be a great book – exactly what they're looking for.

But if you're like me and you spend a bit more time on the trashy side of the celebrity biography continuum (TM), you might be better off hitting the library for a heavy dose of Ms. Kelley's work. I hear she claims Frank Sinatra once married a mountain goat in Las Vegas to win a bet with Sammy.

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