Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Archivist - A Ha - East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Take On Me. The Norwegian Band's first hit took 3 releases before it was a hit back in 1985. I enjoyed it's jaunty pop and ground-breaking video. Morten Harket had that exotic Scandinavian lilt to his voice and the chiselled good looks didn't do them any harm. So I invested in the album, Hunting High & Low. What I found within that album was behind the gloss of the singles was a good dose of Scandinavian Melancholia. It must be the lack of sunlight but a lot of the Scandinavian bands from the Sugarcubes to Sigur Ros have that melancholia. The title track summed this up perfectly.

Written by main songwriter, Pal Waaktar-Savoy, it uses sweeping strings and Morten's soaring vocal range to great effect drawing the listener into the cold enveloping air. It's easy to see why the Bond producers gave them a chance at a Bond Song with The Living Daylights later on in their career.
The hits continued through the following two albums, Scoundrel Days and Stay On These Roads but both also saw the band develop the deeper songs of their repertoire - songs such as Scoundrel Days, Manhattan Skyline & Stay On These Roads indicating an increasingly developed sound and songwriting skill.
But it was the next album that really grabbed me. I'd already seen them live and would go on to see them several times more - but this was the tour and album that was the real game changer.
The songs were deeper, darker, more introverted than ever. But the sound was widescreen, expansive and even joyous in places. The lead off single was their Everley Brothers cover, Crying In The Rain, which gave a good indication of where the album was going. A deep, dark, painful version with Morten reaching low on his vocal register before that soaring vocal kicks in. The production has such a dynamic register, I used to use it to sell Hi Fi systems.
The songwriting, mainly by Pal, shows a growing maturity and is light years from the pop of Take On Me. With second single, I Call Your Name & string arrangements by David Bedford, it's an album of deep dark emotion but is SO tuneful. Songs like Rolling Thunder, which is just spine tingling, especially live. But you had to be there, doesn't sound the same on video.

It's not all darkness though. The sweeping, woozy string arrangements of Bedford work their magic in the engaging Waiting For Her.

But like all good albums of depth and scope, it ends on a simple and lovely song, (Seemingly) Non Stop July.

They continued to release albums of further depth and resonance right up to their final album - Foot Of The Mountain but in 2010 they finally called it a day (again). All the subsequent solo albums have variants of the A Ha sound but none has matched up to what they achieved as a group. The final accolade was a Knighthood for all 3.
Their final song was Butterfly released as part of the final Greatest Hits package but let's leave it with another slice of Scandinavian beauty, Velvet,  from their 2000 album, Minor Earth, Major Sky. Glacial Gorgeousness.





  1. Analogue and Memorial Beach are cracking albums too.

  2. I always thought that these guys might have an attraction for the Jones psyche. I think YOU might have a bit of the Scandinavian in you somewhere to come up with those introverted lyrics and music. Scandinavian & Welsh - that's a Ying/Yang if I ever saw it :)