1) Waterloo; 2) Sitting In The Palmtree; 3) King Kong Song; 4) Hasta Mañana; 5) My Mama Said; 6) Dance (While The Music Still Goes On); 7) Honey, Honey; 8) Watch Out; 9) What About Livingstone; 10) Gonna Sing You My Lovesong; 11) Suzy-Hang-Around; 12*) Waterloo (Swedish version).
7 out of 10
ABBA’s first internationally released album (and their first as ABBA) is an improvement over the rather flaccid (if inoffensive and even occasionally fun) album but not a major one. Everything is just a slight step up from the previous albums with only a few drop offs. This makes “Waterloo” the most diverse and inconsistent album in the ABBA catalog. The good material is great, the bad material is…
…”King Kong Song.” All right, time to say it once again for the benefit of Mr. Kite (guy’s dumber than Mr. Jones): ABBA rocking out rarely, rarely works. And it’s never more apparent here. The opening guitar riff isn’t awful (a bit simplistic but a bit menacing in a dorky type of way) and the song actually does have a thick, rock heavy sound to it.
But then Bjorn comes in and starts singing about King Kong. No metaphors here, no sly wink at the audience to show the band is goofing off. I’m sure the band is (they aren’t dumb guys) but it’s hard to tell with Bjorn: his singing, while pleasant is always so stiff and white bread you can’t tell if the guy has a sense of humor. Yeah, he’s smiling constantly in all ABBA photos, save a few, but that is irrelevant.
“Watch Out” works a bit better in this department but the unconvincing lyrics and atmosphere don’t really create the mood they are trying to achieve. It’s as simple as this: yes, the songs are catchy and even memorable. But I’d be embarrassed to show these songs to a friend. And I’m sure a majority of the world thinks these are lame songs. Bad feel for a “Universal” band such as ABBA.
There are also a few attempts at non-ABBA type sound, such as the “Caribbean” sounding “Sitting in the Palmtree.” Or rather, what the band thinks is Caribbean sounding. It has a pleasant melody but the arrangement is so banal and generic that it’s hard to enjoy.
“Hasta Manana” works a bit better but still reeks of cheese. Oddly, “Honey, Honey” actually works for me, in spite of it being the most sexual sounding ABBA song ever. One fears the band would slip into absolute cheeseball territory with the song but the sexiness of the girls voices and the solid arrangement and melodies of the song help make it work. And “What About Livingstone” sounds way too pompous and self important to be high quality: the melody and arrangements are bad but the band sounds too “word of God” to be adequate.
The band is naturally at their best when they’re doing their whole ABBA schtick. “Waterloo” is obviously the stand out track. It follows a similar “bulldozer” attack with “Ring, Ring” but the melody is more masterful, the arrangement more intricate, the lyrics a tiny, tiny bit better (merely slightly embarrassing instead of completely) and the girl’s really nail the singing.
None of the other songs really “nail” it like “Waterloo” but they are generally better than “Ring, Ring”’s attempts at songwriting. “My Mama Said” is one of the weaker tunes as its a bit generic and boring. But I’ll be DAMNED if I can’t get the chorus out of my head. A solid, if uninspired piece of generic songwriting.
“Dance (While the Music Still Goes On)” begins ABBA’s “dance” song fetish in full. It has a great arrangement and a solid, catchy melody. Lyrics are stinky but again you gotta expect that with this band. It’s one of the better songs on the album but is still relatively primitive compared to “Waterloo” let alone the masterpieces on the next album.
“Suzy Hang Around” is the only song by ABBA to feature Benny Anderson on lead vocals (featuring worse than usual lyrics by the same man who left lyrics to Bjorn and Stig in the future). It has a pleasant ringing guitar line, some solid vocal harmonies, a catchy vocal melody and a nice, plaintive folk sound to it. Not a bad way to close the album.
But I can’t end the review without mentioning the pen-ultimate track. The “beautiful ABBA ballad” style is nailed, completely nailed on “Gonna Sing You My Lovesong.” Yes, the lyrics are absurd but the melody hits emotional buttons that are enhanced by the solid arrangement. This song, along with “Waterloo” really point the way towards future ABBA successes.
So while the album is basically a heavy improvement it’s also a bit of a retreat. The annoying songs on this album are even more annoying when surrounded by the better songs. In fact, the annoying songs on here actually threaten to be worse than the annoying songs on “Ring, Ring.” I wanted to give this an 8 so bad, but then I hear “this is the King Kong song, won’t you all sing along?” and I have to drop the album a point. Don’t worry: from this point on, ABBA would become consistent to the point of pain.