Like the Cure, Simple Minds, Madness, or any other band of 30-year standing, A-ha exist in their own universe. To the snobbish eye they might still be dismissed as chiseled-cheeked, Nordic pop puppets. But this ignores their intriguingly entitled self-penned songs, drenched in macabre lyrics and murderous winters, not to mention their longevity. The rocky opener, I’ve Been Losing You, (‘putting the gun down on the bedside table,’) traces the bloody events of a long forgotten crime, and all too quickly we’re thrust into their noir-pop, and uneasy relations within the band.
They’ve split up more times than Katie Price, and the biggest issue with their reforming is ruining their perfectly entitled swansong of 2010 – Ending on a High Note. Retiring these songs is criminal though, so thankfully they’re back and invigorated, finally finding a happy compromise between synth pop and guitar riffs. The band write songs with the pressure of having had success, while being good looking and talented.
It’s funny how a band can creep up on you. Not literally of course, that would be illegal, although I suspect most women here, and some men, would take an interpretive stance on the law, should Morten, Magne or Pål actually be following them.
From the windswept synths of Cry Wolf – its chilled loneliness that no one can mend – to the escapist warmth of Move to Memphis, with its Prince-esque guitars and ruin porn visuals, they are as tight as ever, with Morten’s vocals soaring like no one else’s. And that’s the rub; ultimately they sound like no one, much that Coldplay want to, they have none of the Norwegians dark lyrical reach.
After the defiant Stay on these roads it’s hard to see how they were ever misunderstood as vacuous. The taunting, soaring Swing of Things falls into its pleading ‘Oh, have I come to the point where I’m losing the grip’, as Pål’s slide guitar underlines its raw sentiment. Were Morrissey singing these lines, they’d be revered. Even their simplest songs are deceptively complicated – the lead track from new album Cast in Steel is no exception, as melodies fold into one another with the deftness of origami.
They keep their distance, Pål wearing his now ever-present beanie hat, like a woollier The Edge, and Magne engaging with the audience, while Morten incessantly fiddles with his ear mic. Eventually, as Morten disappears backstage, presumably to further check mic levels, Pål gets his version of the choral Velvet, while Magne requests the crowd to help with singing Lifelines, not without a dig at Morten’s recent claim he sings all the songs. The ongoing absence of Morten grows suspicious when backing singer and solo artist Anneli Drecker takes on Here I stand and face the rain, (‘which we’ve not tried before’). In the absence of Morten, the line ‘Let’s stay friends forever,’ takes a darker adult hue on childish promises.
Morten returns, yet the fair weather fans – the headline and deadliners crew – grow restless during recent album track She’s humming a tune. Soon though, the uplifting escapist dreams of Foot of the Mountain is somehow replying to New Order’s True Faith. Then the Sun Always Shines On TV rips through the crowd with its ever-repeatable majesty, before the crowd takes on a stirring acapella coda of Hunting High and Low.
The brittle Scoundrel Days could have been a bond theme, as half their songs could, one of which of course is; the Living Daylights makes a fitting encore, before the inevitable. Take On Me still sounds the epitome of a magnificent one hit wonder. Morten still reaches that high note, although its lesser relation, Train of Thought is sorely missed. Until they think of a better send off than Ending on a High Note, we might dare hope a-Ha are here to stay.
My novel – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – the Life Assistance Agency is available now here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance