Perhaps A-ha didn’t invent ’80s pop, but they defined it. One look at them playing their new single back to back with -The Sun Always Shines On TV’ live on Jonathon Ross (see below) a few weeks back and you can see how the sound they perfected has come full circle for not just them, but pop in general – the old single sounding as fresh as Morten Harket’s Peter Pan features. In fact Harket’s voice is so utterly recognisable and familiar that there comes a strange feeling of the nostalgic and the fresh on first listen to this new album – fresh because when they hit it right here (and they really do in parts) it’s the most soaring pop sound this year.
There is certainly something slightly Eurovision about some songs on this album, but Eurovision back in its more innocent days and, live, there’s a bit of the Johnny Logan about Harket without question. However it is a mix of this, of poster boys from the ’80s returning, and of a renewed thirst for the synth sounds that make Foot Of The Mountain about a million times more enjoyable that first imagined.
The downside, to get this out of the way first, is the sometimes weak lyrics that make things a little cringey, like when they sing ‘when Mother Nature goes to heaven’ in their eco-song. Also ‘The floorboards creak at dawn, as you walk out on the lawn’ is wrong on many levels, especially literally. There are some tracks that are nice and mellow but sound a bit like filler (-Real Meaning’ perhaps and -Riding The Crest’). After Hunting High And Low, A-ha were never a band who made albums packed with gems but the singles could be superb (-Stay On These Roads’ the single versus the mediocre album of the same name).
Foot Of The Mountain continues this somewhat but the gems here are really worth your time. Opening track -The Bandstand’ begins with a simple synth riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Faithless song, underlayed with a soft and familiar A-ha electronic bed of sound – in fact it still sounds like almost all their sounds are developed in Magne Furuholmen’s keyboard. The first single -Foot Of The Mountain’ is as good as anything they have ever done, an epic string-laden sound and an addictive melody. Maybe it’s showing our age, but it’s just so damn enjoyable for whatever reason. The slow-burner -Shadowside’ is a bit more acoustic sounding and if we still operated our mating habits around slow-sets there’d be many teenagers holding onto each other for this one.
-Nothing Is Keeping you Here’ begins just like Nilsson’s -Everybody’s Talkin’ oddly enough, but descends into the lame -lawn’ lyrics mentioned earlier, though it’s a pretty good sound if you can get over that. (It is difficult.) As the album closes another three minutes of pleasure lie in -Sunny Mystery’ and then the obligatory mellow exit in -Start The Simulator’ which is a fine curtain on things, a song laid over a very simple drum machine and some added texture. But such talk of technical aspects in these songs is superfluous. What is important to note is that a good half of this album is life-affirming pop of the highest calibre. Radio friendly, sure, and in part a glorious throw back to the best Eurovision sounds (Norway might pull an Irish two-in-a-row if these guys step up next year) but for pop music like this, that’s just where you want to be.