Well, here we are, the third album since their seven-year hiatus ended. A new label, a new direction.
A-ha fans always get very excited about a new album, and start making positive comparisons to the previous ones and so on, but this time, I think it’s justified.
First of all, there’s practically no filler. I was always of the mind that there were enough decent songs on both Minor Earth Major Sky and Lifelines to make up a decent forty or forty-five minute disc after you shed some excess tunes that weren't quite up to standard, but here we have a thirteen track disc where each song pretty much justifies its place on the album.
I’m not saying there aren’t some songs here that are weaker than others, but after six or seven listens, I was never even considering hitting the skip button on any track. I even did a shuffle on one listen, and even on a random sequence, it hangs together really well.
Compared to the last two albums, which usually started quite strongly, and then got very hit-and-miss in the middle before pulling it out of the bag at the final hurdle, this is consistent and doesn’t run out of steam midway through.
First off, their tradition of strong title tracks continues. Analogue is superb, and should have been released as the first single with a decent marketing push by Polydor. It could’ve made top ten in the UK on first week sales, even if only bought by die-hards as a show of solidarity.
I’ve no issue with them bringing in Max “Britney Spears” Martin on this, as the song is still quintessentially a-ha, just with his trademark kick. I also like the fact that the title of the song isn't actually mentioned in the lyrics as they seem to have ditched the third verse if you consult the lyrics printed in the libretto.
Throughout the album, they’ve clearly ditched the Europop sound. Much of the last two albums were clearly recorded with one ear to the European dance pop market, and only now, having heard the album, do I understand why Paul commented recently that he considers Lifelines to be “a waste”, a comment I was stunned at at the time, but almost makes sense in the light of hearing this record.
Although Analogue is no East of the Sun, i.e. totally devoid of keyboards and programming, it’s a much more organic sound than the last two albums.
One example is Over the Treetops, surely a Savoy tune in everything but name (there even seems to be a shared vocal between Morten and Paul for some of it), which could not have slotted in too well on the last two records.
One of my few grievances (and it’s admittedly petty) is the decision to make Halfway Through the Tour a long track. I would’ve preferred them to list the second instrumental part as a separate track under a different title, i.e. creating a 3:49 song and a 3:37 instrumental, as opposed to a 7:26 epic. It’s ironic, as I always thought Savoy’s Mary Is Coming/Untitled worked better the opposite way, i.e. NOT separating the two tracks to CREATE a long song, but Mary Is Coming/Untitled SOUND like they belong together, whereas mixing a rollicking song with an Angelo Badalamenti sound-a-like instrumental isn’t quite the same thing.
Clearly, Magne is gradually taking over the song-writing duties, which I’m surprised at, considering his plethora of recent solo activities. Maybe he’s been storing these songs away for years, who knows? (Worthy of note is Birthright, this album’s Dragonfly).
Compare the writing over the last few albums. If you go back fifteen years to before the seven-year hiatus, you had Paul and Magne collaborating on nearly all of East of the Sun, Paul effectively single-handedly writing Memorial Beach (bar Move to Memphis, with Magne, and Magne’s own Lamb to the Slaughter).
Then, after the reunion, we had Magne with four writing credits on Minor Earth, one of which was totally solo, growing to eight on Lifelines, four totally solo, and now seven on Analogue, with SIX of them totally solo compositions.
This is the most since Paul’s eight solo compositions on Memorial Beach, though Paul also contributed six totally solo compositions to Lifelines, the writing experience of which he may not have been too happy about, considering Magne and Morten collaborated a lot on that album.
Standouts for me overall are Analogue, Keeper of the Flame and The Summers of Our Youth, with a deserved (and long-overdue) shared vocal. I think it’s a contender for one of their best songs and a fitting conclusion to the record. To be honest, with the exception of Stay On These Roads, the last track on all of their albums is nearly always strong. Think about it.
Overall then, the album is a triumph. They sound like a proper BAND again, not just three guys laying down tracks and having the others come in and overdub their input to the recording.
As a final thought, I think the DVD is weak. The live tracks are fine, but the Celice video is dire, as is the “remix” version that it accompanies, and the idea of flogging the DVD on the basis of including a “making of” and an “interview” as separate items is a farce.
Both sections effectively use the same footage and the band input is cursory at best. It plays like a bad press pack. Not good. Better to just have had the live tracks and maybe the video, but that’s it. They don’t need extra bonus stuff to sell the album anyway. The fans will buy it regardless.
Let the music do the talking.
Can't wait for the tour.