Friday, September 16, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: A-Ha : "The Singles 1984-2004"

An A-Ha Moment!  
5 Out of 5 Stars

It's a shame that A-Ha never fully realized their star potential with American audiences. Other then the still charming "Take On Me" and the follow-up "The Sun Always Shines On TV" from their "Hunting High And Low" debut, their chart success stateside never matched the band's international superstardom. Which means that - as far as American audiences were concerned - their best-of's had not been issued here until 2010 (thanks, Rhino). I actually picked my copy of this up while on vacation in London.

It was well worth it. A-Ha were far more than their pretty faces on the MTV videos. (But to be the band that could lay credit to the "Take On Me" - or even the lesser known "Cry Wolf" - video.) Seven studio albums and world-wide sales of more than 60-thousand albums certainly vindicates that point. What most of us Yanks missed was the frequently inventive pop-music this trio turned out. They were masters of the confectionery ballad, with songs like "Manhattan Skyline," "Velvet" and "Stay On These Roads" masterworks of melodrama.

In their later albums, A-Ha was finding conflict within their group and the albums began to reflect the turmoil. (The CD also contains an honest recollection of the band's history.) The synths began to take a lower profile and more live (and livelier) recording began to unfold. While A-Ha was still making some cutting edge pop, a song like "Minor Earth Major Sky" is particularly dark. There is even a relatively faithful version of the Everly Brothers' "Crying In The Rain."

Then there is the matter of that voice. Morten Harket had a falsetto that rivaled Freddie Mercury's and certainly influenced singers like The Darkness' Justin Hawkins. It hit that impossibly high note in "Take On Me" but could also add to the drama of the band's shot at a James Bond theme, "The Living Daylights." Obviously hoping Bond would do for them what "A View To A Kill" did for Duran Duran, A-ha rocks it in a cinematic way, and it could possibly be both Harket's best vocal and the most under appreciated of all the James Bond movie themes.

Which about sums up this collection. There is some of the finest pop you've never heard here, new wave of otherwise. Terrifically re-mastered for this CD, A-Ha "The Singles - 1984/2004" showcases an under appreciated band who created some perfectly realized music, even without the sun shining on them in the US.

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