Those of you who follow me on twitter will already have heard about my run in with an allegedly incompetent doctor at a local A&E department last night. While I am feeling much better this morning than I was yesterday evening, I’m not anywhere near 100% just yet, so I’m lying in bed, watching football and listening to my iPod. And when I heard Morten Harket’s dulcet tones, I was reminded that there are only 249 days until I see a-ha live in Oslo.
This one, complete with a million blobs of multi-coloured – and, it later emerges, magnetic – ink, is the title track from a-ha’s ninth, latest and last studio album, in which Morten describes his ideal escape from busy city life to his ideal rural retreat with his ideal partner.
2010 marks the 25th anniversary of a-ha‘s first big hit, Take on Me, and the band are planning a world tour to mark the occasion. It seems unlikely that Cape Town will be on their venue list, but if you’re reading, Morten (and I know you’re a big fan of 6000 miles…) then you’re welcome to stop by our place on your way through. Please try to avoid June and July though, I have a World Cup happening and I will be busy doing World Cup stuff.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that a-ha are still together and still releasing albums. Their latest offering, Foot of the Mountain, is their 9th album and was released just last month. And with it, they have unashamedly returned to their 80’s synthy-pop roots, Morten’s distinctive and ageless voice soaring above wonderfully over-produced keyboards from the very first song, like an unusually cheerful Dave Gahan. And that’s something that’s been missing in their work for a while (the over-produced keyboards, not an unusually cheerful Dave Gahan). Stand out tracks include What There Is, Shadowside and Foot of the Mountain, the latter probably being the most reminiscent of their early stuff, thanks to the repeating keyboard riff. And then there’s the rather Snow Patrol-esque sound of Nothing is Keeping You Here, which even now I can imagine was penned by Gary Lightbody. Although it wasn’t. So yes, it’s a surefire hit, but with whom, exactly?
I’ve enjoyed a-ha’s music since the beginning. Yes, I’m a fan and yes, I have all their stuff – even when they lost their direction a bit around 1993. I’ve seen them countless times. I have Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s leather wristband at home, gained after he threw it into the crowd at Sheffield City Hall in 1988. I have their solo work, even Morten’s Poetenes Evangelium, which is wholly in Norwegian and which I therefore don’t understand, but I still enjoy listening to. Last night, I even held on until the end of the pisspoor Coneheads on SET so that I could hear his version of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. OK – I’ll accept that that was a bit sad.
Of course, when the whole a-ha thing started in the UK, it was cutting edge, new age and trendy. Not quite so now it seems, as they are BBC Radio 2’s album of the month and being interviewed by Dale Winton. Terrifyingly middle-aged, you might argue. And I’d agree. But I guess that as the band and their music has got older, so have their fans (I know I have, despite my best efforts to resist). And somehow, the 1980’s style of Foot of the Mountain has got me reliving those days and made me feel all young again.
That’s why I think it’s going to be a popular album with their fans – they still have a huge following in South America, Germany and, of course, Scandinavia. I don’t think they’ll win huge numbers of new followers with FotM, despite the critical acclaim that it has received: there just isn’t a big new market for this sort of music these days. But I doubt that the band are expecting a plethora of teenies bopping along to their stuff anyway.
Suffice to say that this latest offering will keep their fans very happy and eagerly awaiting the upcoming tour and – beyond that – the next album. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait another four years for that.