MOST EUROPEANS would, quite rightly, give their balls to suck Slurpees at a 7-11 or grow up absurd on Yankee turf, but they don’t get the chance. So lots of them do it by proxy, synthesizing what they hear (and what they think they hear) by way of records and radio.
ABBA’s Waterloo is a brilliant program, a compliment to Continental brainpower, synthesizing a dozen styles, robbing the graves of long-dormant Past Masters like Brian Wilson, Neil Sedaka, even Phil Spector. Some of it sounds like Lobo, some like the Hollies, some like reggae, some like the Monkees – but the blend is compelling not for this attentive detail-copying, but more for its timing. ABBA music is ultimately a skillful adaptation/appropriation of previously available elements – it’s just that nobody thought to combine them in this manner before.
You know the title track: high-profile piano pop coasting off Napoleon B’s isolations and the first real girly group-singing since maybe Martha’s ‘Jimmy Mack’ or some late Supremes stuff. ‘Suzy Hang Around’ unwinds as folk-rock (torn intact from the Byrds’ ‘Chimes of Freedom’) and skips to a lyrical rope strung tight between the Archies and Edison Lighthouse. Love it, especially the 12-string and cello saw.
‘Ring Ring’ is perky girl group fluff, Anna and Frida doing it all with their noses, a la Neil Sedaka himself (who co-furnished the lyrics). ‘What About Livingstone’, built on another Bonaparte-type myth, at 2:54 sounds set to follow ‘Waterloo’ with baby-lovin’ success into one or another winners’ circle.
‘Watch Out’ couples a Monkees-type melody/arrangement to a Reg Presley punk-sneer lead vocal, either from Bjorn or Benny. ‘Honey Honey’ picks up where the Archies left off, right around the second verse of ‘Sugar, Sugar’, with 1960’s gal group style and Buddah bubblegum sentiment. Though the sound is girly, the production is far from Spectorish, instead relying on an understated yet affecting Lobo-like lightness. ‘Hasta Manana’ is sharp, Mary Hopkin meets Tony Orlando, while ‘My Mama Said’ carries a telegraph guitar from some 1967 Supremes hit, and ‘Dance’, arguably Waterloo‘s high-point, borrows the melody from ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ and the sugar from Spector’s Crystals.
Conclusion: You can sho nuff shove that funky stuff when there’s Pop like this available. A fine first shot with variety and freshness, perpetrated by a pair of Scandinavian student princes with big ears and more talent than they can handle.
© Gene Sculatti, Zoo World, 12 September 1974