[Album Review] “Hunting High and Low” – a-ha

Hunting High and Low - a-haAlbum Title: Hunting High and Low
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1985
Running Time: 37m 17s

Track listing: 1 Take On Me; 2 Train of Thought; 3 Hunting High and Low; 4 The Blue Sky; 5 Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale; 6 The Sun Always Shines on TV; 7 And You Tell Me; 8 Love Is Reason; 9 I Dream Myself Alive; 10 Here I Stand and Face the Rain

With the return of the 1980s Norwegian pop-kings in the year 2000, this seems like an opportune moment to take you through their career, record by record.

The mid-80s was about hair spray, funny clothes and some bloody awful pop music. There were many image-conscious, talentless twits out there earning good money, so it was pleasing to see quality song-writers and performers like A-ha make it. At first glance, you probably dismiss A-ha as just another good-looking band with a few good tunes. This debut album proves that there was a lot more to them than met the eye.

The hit singles are the obvious place to start. It took three attempts for the band to make the breakthrough. Their debut single, ‘Take On Me’, only became a No 2 UK hit on it’s third release (that’s a patient record company!), in the main thanks to the ground-breaking half-sketch/half-reality video. But that’s to do a disservice to one of the 80s finest pop tunes. With it’s indelibly catchy keyboard jaunt and perky vocals, ‘Take On Me’ is guaranteed a place in the musical hall of fame for good.

To go one better on the next release is one thing, but to go one better with a song like ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ was amazing. Dark and swirling, but uplifting at the same time, this pop-rock classic pierced a hole right through the charts and went to number 1 for 2 weeks in the UK, bringing credibility to a chart suffering under the weight of candyfloss like Wham and Bananarama.

Although a notch down from a quality perspective, ‘Train of Thought’ is a likeable and focused pop tune, memorable for the cool pipes that Pal debuts to great effect. The title track is a real beauty, absolute raw emotion. No one writes or performs ballads like a-ha do, and this has been proven throughout their 2000 release, “Minor Earth Major Sky”. ‘Hunting High and Low’ is an acoustic gem, beautifully sung, elegantly performed. When Morten sings ‘watch me tearing myself to pieces’, ‘do you know what it means to love you…’, it really raises the hairs on your neck. Incredible.

But what makes this album such a must is not just the excellent singles, but also the back up excellence of most of the other tracks. ‘The Blue Sky’ might sound a little like it was played on a yamaha keyboard by a lucky bid at Christmas, but the song has a cool hook which would probably translate pretty well to a more modern sound. ‘Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale’ is pretty well written fare; the story of a lonely young boy living rough after rejection from society. The orchestral chorus and oboe tinged verses work a treat, as do the touching lyrics – ‘I’ve been lost in so many places, seeked love from so many faces’..

‘I Dream Myself Alive’ doesn’t break any moulds, but the derivative keyboard strokes work very well as a background to Morten’s determined vocal. The album closer ‘Here I Stand and Face the Rain’, comes across as very nouveau, possibly well ahead of it’s time. Pal works the acoustics in a resignated stop-start style that only add more helplessness to Morten’s depressed lyric – ‘Help me; I need your love; don’t walk away; the dark scares me so; we’re nothing apart; lets stay friends forever’. The hollering finale is wonderfully eerie and closes off the album in remarkable style.

The last two tunes are non-offensive album filler. ‘And You Tell Me’ is a super-delicate sub-two minute ballad, ‘Love is Reason’ a sign of the happy-go-lucky pop style that a-ha were too excel at (‘Maybe Maybe’, ‘You are the One’, ‘Touchy’).

Overall, this is a marvellous album and arguably A-ha’s best.

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