Teen pop can be like a tight pair of jeans: they attract a lot of attention for the wearer, but there isn't much room for growth. Swedish vocal group the A*Teens wedged themselves into a particularly snug fit with their debut album, The ABBA Generation. The 2000 release was comprised entirely of cover songs by their '70s superstar countrymen. But the quartet Marie Serneholdt, 17; Amit Paul, 17; and Sara Lumholdt and Dhani Lennemvald, both 16 must've realized that the novelty appeal of an ABBA cover group was over before the ink dried on their contracts. And so here comes their sophomore album, completely ABBA-cover free and titled (without a whiff of irony) Teen Spirit. Unfortunately, they've simply traded one constrictive, predictable format for another.
Teen Spirit opens promisingly with the first single, "Bouncing Off the Ceiling (Upside Down)", an exuberant 21st century take on Spector-style symphonic pop, complete with ringing chimes and baroque-lite piano break. It's so relentlessly upbeat and hook-lined that you can almost forgive the inane lyrics ("My teacher says to concentrate/ So what's-his-name is Peter the Great"). The same goes for "Sugar Rush", a disarmingly cute schoolyard-romance tune that showcases the group's helium-high harmonies to great effect. The remaining 11 tracks, though, march to the same toned-down Euroclub beats heard throughout popdom. Worse still, for a group eager to distance itself from a cover group past, the prefab perkiness and keening keyboard whine of "Halfway Around the World" and "Morning Light" (it opens with "Once upon a time I was a younger man" like when ... last week?) are identical not only to ABBA, but to '80s Swede stars Ace of Base as well. If the A*Teens intend to make good on the threat of their final track and come "Back for More," they'll need to work twice as hard to dispel both the ghosts of Björn, Benny et al and this new straight-outta-IKEA personality as well.