The difficult second album

Apparently, it’s a thing. Young band bursts through, full of promise and innovation, releases a fantastic debut album to widespread acclaim and sales and then has to follow it up with something equally good to show that they are more than just a flash in the pan.

Back in late 1986, a-ha faced this hurdle – having given us a debut album which spawned 4 top 10 hits – and thirty years ago today (thirty…!) they released Scoundrel Days.


Despite enjoying what had gone before – and the eight studio albums which have followed since – Scoundrel Days remains my favourite a-ha album, and with that, my favourite album. In fact the eponymous single is my favourite a-ha track. The power of Morten’s voice in the chorus is spine-tinglingly good.

The album sold over 6 million copies worldwide (c.f. 7.8 million for Hunting High And Low) and gave us three singles: I’ve Been Losing You (in which the protagonist expresses a certain amount of regret over murdering his partner), Cry Wolf (in which the band repeatedly insist, somewhat prophetically, that the time to worry is “now”) and the ever-beautiful Manhattan Skyline (in which our star gently describes the blustery scene juxtaposed with his wiild frustration as he leaves his lover during a storm, and which features a fantastic Roland Juno-60/106 synth intro).

Oh, and there was the strange case of Magne’s Maybe, Maybe featuring lines such as:

Maybe it was over when you chucked me out the Rover at full speed.

The doubt in his statement here was probably caused by the fact that in 1986, full speed in a Rover was virtually unattainable because they were usually found broken down at the side of a road.

Maybe, Maybe was released as a single, but only in Bolivia.
It failed to chart. A lesson there for us all, I feel.

I remember reading a review of the album in Smash Hits in October 1986, and being disheartened as they predicted the end of the band, proclaiming that anyone coming up with stuff like:

One left low left two who left high: they seem so hard to find.

Three came twice took once the time to search.

was probably on their way out. And at the time, it seemed a reasonable assertion to be honest, but the album was so good, I bought the CD to go with my cassette tape version – before I even had a CD player.
This was advanced technology, hey?

And yes, I still have the CD. Finding a CD player to play it on is difficult for entirely different reasons now though.

Thirty years seems an awfully long time ago. It is an awfully long time ago, but this one has really stood the test of time and I still enjoy listening to it as much now as I did back then.

a-ha’s next 30 year albumaversary is in May 2018.

Best album of the year?

The 6000 miles… Best Album of the Year 2011 voting is in full swing. I say “voting” because that makes it sound vaguely democratic and democracy is good, mmmkay? In actual fact, I’m using the term “democratic” in the full Zimbabwean tradition – basically, what I say, goes, and if you wish to disagree, I’ll beat you with some sticks in the bush of Matabeleland.

And there are some strong contenders this year. The Streets’ Computers and Blues, Arctic Monkeys’ Suck It And See and now Kasabian’s Velociraptor!, from which this track Days Are Forgotten is taken:


I have gone on record (somewhere that I can’t find) here [Thanks Joe] as saying that the first five songs on Velociraptor!:

  1. Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To
  2. Days Are Forgotten
  3. Goodbye Kiss
  4. La Fée Verte
  5. Velociraptor!

are the best opening side (for those who can remember records and cassettes) to any album I can remember since October 1986: that month marked by the release of a-ha’s second album, Scoundrel Days, which had this line up on Side A:

  1. Scoundrel Days
  2. The Swing Of Things
  3. I’ve Been Losing You
  4. October
  5. Manhattan Skyline

See also, The Killers’ Day & Age, which came close, but which was let down  by the rather weak Joyride.

These tracks just work together. And they’re good. Sometimes with an album you want to skip a track or two, but not here. Musically, the combination of fast and slow, loud and soft (from tracks 3 to 4 on Scoundrel Days and the other way from 4 to 5 on Velociraptor!) is there in both cases. More on Kasabian’s Muse meets Beatles style when they pop out some more videos.

In the meantime, why not (carefully) stick down your thoughts on other contenders for this illustrious award in the comments below? Or maybe your thoughts on the best first five songs on any album. You may want to remember my Mugabesque approach to dissension, as described above.