FOR THE RECORD: a-ha – Analogue (2005)

To the untrained ear a-ha’s Analogue does not sound like an a-ha album. In fact, there’s more in common with previous poster pin-ups The Beatles than the trio of Norwegians gracing the cover of their 1986 debut, Hunting High And Low. But to those who chose to take on the band for the whole of their career (or at least the vast majority of it), it’s ‘Take On Me’ and its parental collection that doesn’t sound like a-ha. While it made them a household name and set the foundations of a career that would see them recording a Bond theme, playing to a Guinness World Record paying audience (reportedly 198, 000 people) and reuniting to critical acclaim following a seven year hiatus, the playful synth-pop anthem would not be a sign of what was to follow.

Analogue (2005) is the band’s eighth studio album, and their third since Minor Earth Major Sky saw them return to the music scene in monumental style. (For those who haven’t heard it, lead single ‘Summer Moved On’ – an explosion of strings, reflective lines and that vocal, which at one point seems unfeasibly impressive – really does deserve four minutes of your time.) While Minor Earth… – and what has been labelled “The seven year itch” – allowed the band to write and record mature, indie-tinged, sweeping pop numbers, Analogue shows it at its peak. Primarily an organic sounding effort, Morten, Paul and Magne’s output captures the melodies of some of Lennon/McCartney’s more sombre songs, while wrapping them in lush production and channelling through the iconic harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. (Graham Nash even contributes backing vocals to ‘Cosy Prisons’ and the picturesque ‘Over The Treetops’: “Stop calling her restless she moves in the sun”.)

Tracks including ‘Birthright’ and ‘The Summers Of Our Youth’ see mostly simple instrumentation that’s arguably the polar opposite of the sound most associated with the band, with the latter showcasing Magne’s vocals; the closing track is one that will tug on the heartstrings of anyone who has loved and lost, or who simply struggles with the fact that time cannot be turned back (“And you can find it anywhere you know I speak the truth / I wish there was a way back to the summers of our youth.”) ‘Keeper Of The Flame’ is one of those songs so straightforward it’s almost ridiculous, and captures a Macca-esque melody complete with drum rolls a la Ringo. “Give it up for rock and roll, give it up for rock / give it up for how it made you feel,” Morten’s faultless falsetto delivers, also reflecting the sentiments of ‘Summers Of Our Youth’.

But while it’s more of an analogue album as opposed to a digital one, hints of nu wave and electronic elements creep in on the synthesized squeals of opener ‘Celice’, the surprisingly raucous outro to the Morten-penned ‘Make It Soon’ and lead single ‘Analogue (All I Want’). Originally a more cryptic number titled ‘Minor Key Sonata (Analogue)’, pop maestro Max Martin (Britney Spears ‘…Baby One More Time’, Backstreet Boys ‘I Want It That Way’) was brought in to assist in transforming the track into something a little more radio-friendly. The end result saw an a-ha single in the UK top ten for the first time in 18 years, while follow-up ‘Cosy Prisons’ just entered the Top 40, but is perhaps the best track on the collection. Although Paul has primarily been the main songwriter, Magne compositions (much like George Harrison ones) often surprise and delight, with ‘Cosy Prisons’ providing a soundtrack like crescendo, pushing the acrobatics of Morten’s vocal and offering lyrics that – like the juxtaposition of the title – are both starkly intelligent and sensitively inviting: “The sun must never touch your skin, it could expose the dark within / you’re paranoid about the paranoia.”

‘Don’t Do Me Any Favours’ and ‘The Fine Blue Line’ could be opposingly tempoed Coldplay or Keane tracks (both acts have cited a-ha as an influence, with the former covering the band in early shows – bassist Guy Berryman is also a member of experimental super group Apparatjik, featuring Magne and Analogue producer Martin Terefe), while almost ironic diary entry ‘Halfway Through The Tour’ (“Where there’s money to be made… From the public eye we fade”) dares to become a gentle, arcane instrumental for its second half. And all of this from a band more often associated with the novelty of the ’80s, and presumably assumed to be one hit wonders (or perhaps three at a push). Of course, they have no one but themselves to blame for ‘Take On Me’, and it is a genius pop song, but with Analogue the often misjudged genius of the band – which frequently fell upon deaf ears during their first tenure, see 1991’s dark Memorial Beach – is realised and relished.

Sure, continuing with the ‘Take On Me’ template may have guaranteed more sales and more money to be made, but this is a band who aren’t afraid to alienate their fan base in order to create music that is honest. To quote ‘Cosy Prisons’: “If you’re careful you won’t get hurt, but if you’re careful all the time then what’s it worth?”

Dan Bull

001 a-ha analogue

Dan Bull

Dan Bull

Reviews Editor
London. Likes: Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, Prince Charles Cinema, Duran Duran Dislikes: Soreen, All-hits setlists, "I liked them before everyone else..."