Waterloo, by ABBA
This album, created in the aftermath of ABBA’s win with the title track in Eurovision, marked the international breakthrough of the group. As we have done previously with two other ABBA albums, we are looking at this album as part of the overall discography of ABBA to see if ABBA can qualify for the five-album rule of consistent all-time greats. Compared to the other albums we have looked at before, this album has fewer songs that are familiar to the world as a whole. We are also noting that this album ends with three songs that were included as deluxe editions that were not present in the album when it was first released, the English version of “Ring, Ring,” which was from their first album, and the Swedish version of the two biggest hits of the album, which will be evaluated in due course but will not play a huge role in determining the score of this album, since I do not know Swedish, after all.
The contents of this album are as follows. The album begins, sensibly enough, with Waterloo, the biggest hit off of the album and the international crossover for the group. After that comes Sitting In The Palmtree, a pleasant love song. This is followed by the novelty rock song King Kong Song, which is a meta song in part about writing a song about a pop culture phenomenon, and enjoyable. After that comes Hasta Manana, a melancholy and reflective song about lasting devotion despite a broken relationship. My Mama Said is one of the early examples of the ominous songs about the relationship between parents and children that one finds in ABBA’s body of work, with an excellent bassline to boot. Dance (While The Music Still Goes On) is an early example of the use of dance and music as a way of overcoming relationship difficulties that harkens back to the pop music of the 50’s and early 60’s. Honey, Honey is an upbeat love song that is the second song on this album that is generally well-known. Watch Out is a revelation, a rock song that sounds like something out of Jefferson Airplane more than one would expect from ABBA. What About Livingstone is an amusing and upbeat song that covers a serious historical question about the worth of Livingstone’s journeys through Africa. Gonna Sing You My Love Song is, strikingly, a song from the “other woman” seeking to provide enjoyment and contentment for a lover, expressing longings for eternal love. Suzy Hang-Around is one of those songs about young friendship that seems rather cruel but also honest. The three closing tracks add worthwhile bonus material that seems especially focused on introducing Americans fans to an early song they would not have otherwise known that was their first classic (“Ring Ring”) as well as serving their Swedish fans with local versions of two more classics.
This album does exactly what a breakthrough album is supposed to do. Even seen in light of a larger body of work this album is still striking, in that it helped establish patterns and lanes that the group continues to follow to this day. Let us, as is our custom, divide this album into three categories and then provide an over all judgment of the album. Only two songs on this album have remained consistently well-known, and both of them are on the happier and more upbeat side of ABBA’s emotional palette in “Waterloo” and “Honey, Honey.” Both songs are still enjoyed to this day and have held up well. This album has a large number of songs that are not nearly so well known but are revelations in the way that they established some of the more complex elements that ABBA would later hone to even greater standards of excellence. This second tier of songs that deserves to better known includes “Hasta Manana,” “My Mama Said,” “Dance (While The Music Still Goes On),” and “Gonna Sing You My Love Song,” all of which mine the complexity of love in families and between couples (even couples involved in a triangle). Even those songs that mark lanes that were not followed to the same extent are still great stylistic explorations, from the easygoing “Sitting In The Palmtree” to the bitterly sardonic “Suzy Hang-Around” to the novelty “King Kong Song” and the rocking “Watch Out,” as well as the most emblematic song in the entire album, “What About Livingstone,” which reminds the listener that this is a group that is thought of as being rather shallow and upbeat but is far deeper and far more insightful than it is given credit for, something that the song itself explicitly brings to the attention of the listener. This stellar breakthrough album is a 4.5/5.