Thursday, March 11, 2010

a-ha

On Saturday I got my long-awaited ticket to see a-ha. And I'm talking 25 years of waiting, ever since Massey Hall sold out in 1986 and I was a poor student with no money to pay scalpers. With all the service fees I guess I did this time but I don't care. I'm six rows back for one of my all-time favourite bands.

Most of you only know the first album and Take On Me but there's so much more to their music. They've taken risks their whole career. Each album has its own feel and sound, like all great artists. I connect to the music and lyrics on such a deep level, so please allow me to take you on a musical tour.

Cold As Stone (all 8+ minutes of it), from their Memorial Beach album, is as far from Take on Me as I think you can get. Epic in scope and melancholy in its aspect, it never fails to elicit tears from me - in a good way. (The official site has a remixed version of the song in their media playlist.) If I had to choose only one song it would be this.

But it's a difficult choice. Lifelines features a lot of amazing tunes. The title track and Forever Not Yours, besides being amazing songs have incredible videos, continuing the tradition started by Take On Me. White Canvas has one of the most uplifting lyrics I have ever heard, while Time & Again's lyrics are haunting. You Wanted More, Did Anyone Approach You, Oranges on Appletrees, A Little Bit, Less Than Pure, Cannot Hide, and Dragonfly are all amazing songs. Yes, I think Lifelines might be my favourite album, with the disclaimer that I haven't heard the most recent one, Foot of the Mountain, yet. (HMV has it. Road trip!)

Then there's my previous pick for favourite album, Scoundrel Days. I'll let Ned Raggett, AllMusic Guide, say it for me:
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…The ’80s may be long gone, but Scoundrel Days makes clear that not everything was bad back then.

The track that follows, I've Been Losing You, is also fantastic. And The Weight of The Wind has stunning lyrics. This album underperformed in the US (I have no idea of the Canadian numbers) and doomed North America to being a-ha-less for 25 years. Wish I knew why.

Then there's East of the Sun, West of the Moon, featuring a wonderful version of The Beatles' Crying in the Rain. The title track is gorgeous, I Call Your Name dangerously catchy, Cold River hard-rocking, and Sycamore Leaves is the ultimate driving song.

Minor Earth, Major Sky marked the reunion of the band after a 7-year break. Great songs on this one too: the title track, Little Black Heart, The Sun Never Shone That Day, Thought That It Was You, I Wish I Cared (which appeared on Smallville), You'll Never Get Over Me, I Won't Forget Her, and the centrepiece of the album, the world-record setting Summer Moved On. (In it, Morten holds a note for 20 seconds!) I prefer the premiere performance of this song at the Nobel Peace concert. I adore how Morten comes in to the long note (at 3:25). Most singers would make a big production of this, or you'd at least see them prep, but he has such incredible breath control that you don't even know it's coming. And when it's done, it's just another day at the office. Stunning. And he still does it. This is from a concert five days ago - the note's at 2:50.

This brings me what I have for the longest time felt was the weakest album, Stay on These Roads. My CD player decided to stop working and Baby's having media player issues so this album, which I only have on cassette and isn't in a box, has been my only option. And to my surprise, even the songs that used to annoy me (Touchy!, I'm looking at you) I'm enjoying. I'd always loved The Blood That Moves The Body, This Alone is Love and There's Never a Forever Thing; and liked the James Bond theme The Living Daylights, the title track, and Out of Blue Comes Green. But now I'm not skipping any of the tracks and I'm singing along to the songs I used to despise, which surprises and delights me. And in singing along, I'm appreciating all over again that incredible breath control.

So now I think the weakest is Analogue. It's not a knock on the album. The one-two punch of Celice and Don't Do Me Any Favours is fantastic and the next three, Cosy Prisons, the title track, and Birthright are good. But rest heads into a style that's really not my thing. Others love it and it got glowing reviews but to me it sounds like the 90s grunge I'm not a big fan of. (Not that it's grunge. I don't know that style enough to classify it.) But who knows? It took me years to truly appreciate Memorial Beach and I'm just now getting Stay On These Roads. It may be another one that grows on me.

And now, if you're still reading and you're not a hard-core fan, I'm hoping you might want to check some of this out. The official site has done an incredible job of having everything available. I'm really impressed - even if I can't get the videos to run.

In the end, I just want to share the love. After this tour, the band is breaking up for good. It saddens me that the first time I'll see them in concert will be the last but believe me, I'm grateful I'm getting the chance. A lot of other people aren't. And I'll probably gush on this blog all over again when I do.

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