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A-ha - Topic

Lifelines Play

A difference from their last effort yet undeniably a-ha. This time, the Norse purveyors of quality pop have opted for a variety of producers, ranging from Stephen Hague to Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. The album begins with a lush ballad -- which is typical a-ha, pastoral with support orchestration -- almost like a modern day Moody Blues. "You Wanted More" also follows this trait, only darker with spiky electronics. "Afternoon High" sketches out '70s pastel glory similar to what Tears for Fears were getting at with parts of the Seeds of Love album. There are shades of Minor Earth Major Sky in that they keep the sugary neigh pleasant ballads vein to full emotional effect on "Turn the Lights Down," "Time and Again," and like MEMS's Garbage homage "Sun Never Shone." "Cannot Hide" opts for a Jennifer Paige "Crush" vibe with George Harrison-style guitar, while "Forever Not Yours"' pleasant dramatism echoes Darren Hayes' recent Insatiable. ~ Kelvin Hayes, Rovi

Hunting High and Low Play

Anyone who dismissed a-ha as a one-hit wonder must have missed out on the band's fine debut, Hunting High and Low. Though the band spawned many further hits across the rest of the world, "Take on Me" exploded in the States and the group never cracked the top of the charts again. It's a shame, because the album contains a handful of songs that nearly match the manic energy and emotional crack of its big hit. Further, it's a cohesive album with smart pace changeups, and it rarely fails to delight or satisfy a listener's need for a synth pop fix. The opening kick is a huge one: "Take on Me" is a new wave classic laced with rushing keyboards, made emotionally resonant thanks to Morten Harket's touching vocal delicacy. It didn't hurt in the era of MTV that the song's video was a hyperkinetic blend of mind-warping animation and filmed footage with a romantic thriller's heart. Harket's hunky physique and cheekbones also didn't hurt the video's chances at heavy rotation. Getting past that video, "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." is just as thrilling. Starting as a sad ballad, it explodes into something much more, as chugging guitars and operatic synths keep pace with Harket's evocative vocal stylings. If ever a 1980s song qualified as Wall of Sound, "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." would be it. The remainder of the album sees a-ha switching deftly back and forth between dramatic overtures and classic new wave keyboard motifs. "Train of Thought" and "Love Is Reason" are reminiscent of early Depeche Mode or Camouflage, but Harket's rich voice and flair make them purely a-ha. The band explores decidedly European terrain in the theatrical "Hunting High and Low" and dances a pop waltz with the sweet "Living a Boy's Adventure Tale," coming across like a marriage between the Blue Nile and Alphaville. Delightful song snippets "The Blue Sky" and "And You Tell Me" act as frosting on the cake or as glue between the theater and the dancefloor. One can't escape the feeling that Hunting High and Low is a product of the 1980s, but with highs like "Take on Me" and "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," and no lows in sight, a-ha's debut is a treat worth relishing. ~ Tim DiGravina, Rovi

Scoundrel Days Play

While not quite as strong as the band's debut, Scoundrel Days is still a-ha succeeding as a marketed "pretty boy" band which can connect musically and lyrically as much as any musical sacred cow. The opening two songs alone make for one of the best one-two opening punches around: the tense edge of the title track, featuring one of Morten Harket's soaring vocals during the chorus and a crisp, pristine punch in the music, and "The Swing of Things," a moody, elegant number with a beautiful synth/guitar arrangement (plus some fine drumming courtesy of studio pro Michael Sturgis) and utterly lovelorn lyrical sentiments that balance on the edge of being overheated without quite going over. Although the rest of the disc never quite hits as high as the opening, it comes close more often than not. A definite downturn is the band's occasional attempts to try and prove themselves as a "real" band by rocking out, as on "I've Been Losing You" -- there's really no need for it, and as a result they sound much more "fake," ironically enough. Other songs can perhaps only be explained by the need to translate lyrics -- "We're Looking for the Whales" isn't an environmental anthem, and neither is "Cry Wolf," but both also don't really succeed in using nature as romantic metaphor. When a-ha are on, though, they're on -- "October" snakes along on a cool bass/keyboard arrangement and a whispery vocal from Harket; "Maybe Maybe" is a quirky little pop number that's engagingly goofy; while "Soft Rains of April" captures the band at its most dramatic, with the string synths giving Harket a perfect bed to launch into a lovely vocal, concluding with a sudden, hushed whisper. The '80s may be long gone, but Scoundrel Days makes clear that not everything was bad back then. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi

Stay on These Roads Play

a-ha's recording career hit the skids in America with its third release. But in the U.K., the album became the group's third straight to peak at number two, though it charted for a shorter period than the first two albums, and there were four Top 25 hits -- the title track, "The Blood That Moves the Body," "Touchy!," and "You Are the One." (Also included was a-ha's 1987 theme from the James Bond movie The Living Daylights, a U.K. number five that missed the U.S. charts.) Even in a country with a demonstrated affection for Scandinavians, however (remember ABBA?), that was a fall-off, if the decline was more gradual, and three albums in, a-ha wasn't demonstrating any development from its first hit, just more of the same and a little less distinctive. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

East of the Sun, West of the Moon Play

A small surprise, too quickly destined for the cut-out bins considering the way their career finally went after Hunting High And Low. This is a nicely crafted collection of songs, performed and sung beautifully, with lots of echoes and suggestions tucked into the music. While not an album one can discuss at length, it's an album that's a pleasure to listen to and one that deserves a better reception than the one, unfortunately, that it seems to have gotten. ~ Steven McDonald, Rovi

Analogue Play

The Norwegian band a-ha had never really been away, so the 2006 album Analogue was hardly a comeback but a continuation of their 20-plus years of hitmaking. If anything, it was a return to form after the disappointing Lifelines album. The opening track, "Celice," was released in Europe only and featured Morten Harket's trademark falsetto vocals over a beat driven song. Pål Waaktaar's fuzzy guitar dominates "Make It Soon" but Analogue is mainly a very laid-back album, only a few of its 13 tracks are up-tempo in the style of their classic era "Take on Me," and most of the tracks are piano led, melancholy ballads including "Cozy Prisons," "Birthright," "A Fine Blue Line," and "The Summers of Your Youth." Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young lends his backing vocals to the tracks "Cozy Prisons" and "Over the Teardrops" and makes the harmonies on the latter song sound almost like one of CSN&Y's own. Halfway through the album comes the track "Halfway Through the Tour," a synth-beat number over seven minutes long. It's a strange song which appears to finish at the standard three-minute mark but then continues for a further four minutes as a flute instrumental with echoes of "Nights in White Satin." The first single to be released in the U.K., "Analogue (All I Want)" became their first Top Ten single since 1988's "Stay on These Roads." ~ Sharon Mawer, Rovi

Foot of the Mountain Play

After a reunion of sorts in 1998, a-ha have reminded audiences across the world of their continuing influence on popular music. This ninth studio album is something of a return to their synth pop roots, and finds them adopting a more familiar guise for their elder devotees. Influences cited by the group for Foot of the Mountain include Arcade Fire's Neon Bible and the conflicts of nature and modern civilization., Rovi

Minor Earth Major Sky Play

A-ha's sixth studio CD (seventh if their greatest-hits collection is included) came seven years after their previous album, Memorial Beach, and in that time it seems that a-ha mellowed out. They do not seem to have concern about attracting the youth/dance market, but instead seem to be focusing in on how to make perfect middle-of-the-road pop songs with '90s technology. This is not a criticism, as it produces several fantastic songs, such as "Little Black Heart" and the wonderful "I Wish That I Cared." These, and many others, are full of catchy, beautiful melodies and Morten Harket's vocals are near perfect as usual -- his voice has not lowered one octave since their debut. The one problem with this CD is the relative sameness to some of the music. The tempos do not change a great deal, and by the end the songs seem to run together. More variety would have been beneficial. However, in terms of production, this is as close to perfect as a CD can get, and the lyrics keep things interesting throughout. Overall, a good album, and one that fans will enjoy. ~ Aaron Badgley, Rovi

The Definitive Singles Collection: 1984-2004 Play

The Definitive Singles Collection: 1984-2004 spans seven studio albums and collects 19 of the popular Norwegian pop outfit’s biggest hits, including “Take on Me,” “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” “Hunting High and Low,” “The Living Daylights,” “Stay on These Roads,” and “Cry Wolf.” Some editions of the anthology also include the award-winning animated video for “Take on Me.” ~ James Christopher Monger, Rovi

Headlines and Deadlines: The Hits of A-Ha Play

Norway's a-ha took "Take on Me" to the number one spot on Billboard's Top 40 in 1985, thanks to the award-winning animated video that accompanied it. Still, a-ha contributed rather accordingly to the '80s pop sound, drenching their music with bouncy riffs and employing the keyboard as the foundation to their colorful formula. Headlines and Deadlines: The Hits of a-ha assembles all of their singles together, a definite one-stop for all of their music. Combining ballads and radiant '80s pop, this set includes their most fervent offering in "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," which hit number 20 in 1986 and originated from Hunting High and Low, the same album that included "Take on Me." After this album, the band's next couple of releases, East of the Sun and Memorial Beach, were total washouts, which makes this compilation all the more worthy. Other notables include remixed versions of "Hunting High and Low" and "You Are the One," as well as the theme song to The Living Daylights. Though comparisons to Duran Duran are difficult to avoid, a-ha did harbor some distinct qualities in their glossy sound, and quite a few of their songs still contain some redeeming factors, but are better appreciated when lined up in compilation form. ~ Mike DeGagne, Rovi
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