ABBA: WATERLOO (1974)
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).
This isn't a masterpiece, either. It may have the benefit of being one of ABBA's most diverse albums: rearing for the international market, the Swedes make stabs at just about every commercial style of pop music currently in vogue, but, given their generally "fluffy" disposition, predictably manage to connect with not more than one or two.
For one thing, there is still a heavy overdose of Björn on vocals: he dominates 'Sitting In The Palmtree' and 'Suzy-Hang-Around' and is also all over the place alongside the girls on a whole pack of other numbers. I'm sure there are some major Björn fans out there that are perfectly happy about it, but it seems that the band eventually wasn't, because already on the next album the gentleman got seriously cut down in the singing department. His strength is in the writing; let us not waste it on areas where it is bound to be wasted.
But the major problem is, of course, that around half of the album is devoted to stylistic deviations that are clumsy and awkward. Glam and shock rock was at its public peak around 1973-74, and it's understandable that the band couldn't resist the temptation to go "heavy" and "theatrical" with numbers like 'King Kong Song' and 'Watch Out'; yet they are neither emotionally resonant nor hilarious — in fact, 'King Kong Song' gives me the impression of a typically bad kiddie song at a typically cheesy kiddie festival, while 'Watch Out' tries to sound "scary" but doesn't even reach Alice Cooper level.
Other songs just don't feel focused enough — 'What About Livingstone' is given a "big" sound and "important" lyrics as if it were making a serious social statement, but it isn't; their experiments with country-rock and ska are not very convincing; and their vision of dance music, at this point, still reminds one of the overwrought, generic sound of bad Italian Europop ('My Mama Said'). All of these songs are memorable, in a way, but their melodic power is not yet enough to override the crap factor.
So the record rolls on on the strength of its hit singles: 'Waterloo', the song that made ABBA in European public conscience, and arguably the best ever song to win Eurovision; 'Honey Honey', the most overtly erotic song that the band recorded (the girls' voices drip so much with sex on here that, at one point, I used to indignantly dismiss the song as unsuitable for their generally more restrained style, but then it makes no sense to put down 'Honey Honey' while at the same time praising Madonna's debut, does it?); and 'Hasta Mañana', a Swedish-only chart-topper with Agnetha's angelic sweetness all over it. 'Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)' and 'Gonna Sing You My Lovesong' are also prime ABBA, showing that by 1974, they'd already fully mastered their classic style — they simply weren't too sure that this was to be their classic style, or that the best choice for them would be to stick exclusively to their classic style.
For all the good stuff, this does deserve a thumbs up, yet it is still very clearly a hit-and-miss record hastily built up on the heels of 'Waterloo'; and 'Waterloo' isn't even in my Top 10 of hit ABBA singles — its over-the-top Wagnerian bravado does not compare well with all those later classics that put more emphasis on romanticism and sentiment than on the pomp-and-stomp. Which is not to say that 'Waterloo' shouldn't be counted, all the same, as Eurovision's most glorious moment, or that any Europop lover should stay away from this album just because it features lyrics like 'This is the King Kong song, won't you sing along?' (For the record, I did catch myself singing along to 'Honey Honey' one day — that's when I knew there was nothing left in store for me, not ever again).