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Album Review: ABBA – Waterloo (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

3 min read

6th April 1974 marked a mammoth milestone in popular music, when a oddly-dressed Swedish vocal group appeared at the Eurovision Song Contest and gained exposure to a global audience.

ABBA WaterlooHere was an act whose male half (Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson) actually wrote an implausibly killer single, in a language that was not in their native tongue. Far from crashing like Napoleon at Waterloo, ABBA triumphed at Eurovision and on the charts. Waterloo (the single) hit number 1 in the UK and even reached the Top Ten in crucial markets like the US and Australia.

The 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Waterloo album shows ABBA still taking its baby steps. Only a few tracks truly showcase the famous ABBA sound of thick vocal harmonies and multiple overdubs.

There are some clear album fillers. The lyrics in the reggae-influenced album filler Sitting in the Palmtree are cringeworthy (was ‘like I was a monkey at the zoo’ really the best Bjorn could come up with?). King Kong Song tries too hard to be an Elton John rocker, instead dissolving into a bubblegum wannabe rock-pop headache-inducer. Poor Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida) sounds like a chipmunk on helium on What About Livingstone.

Other tracks show some promise. Gonna Sing You My Lovesong finally displays Frida’s natural jazzy voice, but sounds too much like ballads from pre-Disco Bee Gees and the Carpenters. Watch Out is a better rocker than King Kong Song (which isn’t saying much). My Mama Said has many surprises: vocal effects, whispers, emo lyrics (‘rather see me dead’) and a groovy breakdown demonstrating the strength of ABBA’s session musicians. It screams for a darker, digitally-recorded 1980s remake in the vein of 1981’s The Visitors.

Fortunately, Waterloo has a few gems apart from the title track. Agnetha Faltskog continues her role as a forlorn girl who has lost at love on Hasta Manana, a lovely ballad whose Spanish version recorded in 1980 (a bonus track here) blows away the English version. The Spanish lyrics don’t sound as clunky, the harmonies are richer and more feminine, and Agnetha’s vibrato pack a greater emotional punch.

Dance (While the Music Still Goes On) goes beyond a tribute to the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, with its beautifully constructed melody and epic key changes that are a songwriters’ dream. The sugary sweet yet slightly dirty Honey Honey, best known for its appearance in the ‘Mamma Mia’ musical and movie, should have been a hit single in either its original Swedish or English versions. The Benny-led Suzy-Hang-Around is a charming ode to the innocence of childhood (a metaphor for the 1960s as listeners are reminded of The Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn!).

The bonus tracks feature two single remixes of Ring Ring prepared for US and UK radio after the Eurovision victory. There are also four more versions of Waterloo: the original Swedish version, a German version, a laughable French version and an alternate vinyl single mix.

Waterloo may have recently been voted the greatest Eurovision-winning song, but its namesake album isn’t a breakthrough in itself despite the odd highlight here and there. ABBA in time would have to work hard to prove that it wasn’t a Eurovision one-hit wonder.