[Album Review] “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” – a-ha

East of the Sun, West of the Moon - a-haAlbum Title: East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1990
Running Time: 44m 48s

Track listing: 1 Crying in the Rain; 2 Early Morning; 3 I Call Your Name; 4 Slender Frame; 5 East of the Sun; 6 Sycamore Leaves; 7 Waiting For Her; 8 Cold River; 9 The Way We Talk; 10 Rolling Thunder; 11 (Seemingly) Nonstop July

A-ha’s time had seemingly come and gone by the time they released their fourth album in 1990, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. Despite being the biggest pop-band in the world just three years earlier, sales had been steadily declining since then.

Their lead single off this album was their first ever cover version – The Everly Brothers 1961 classic, ‘Crying in the Rain’, and Morten and the boys pulled out all the stops in an absolutely outstanding rendition. As modern sounding a song as they’d ever recorded, Harket sung beautifully and was backed a marvellous acoustic and electric accompaniment. Stand out track on the album by a mile.

We roll straight into the sombre, bass-driven ‘Early Morning’. Strangely chosen as a single, it’s not the most infectious tune on the record although it is fair to say it’s a bit of a grower. The mood immediatly changes for the cool, upbeat, sax and ivory spiel of ‘I Call Your Name’. Unlike previous catchy pop songs penned by the band, this one had some weight as a genuniely well-written tune. Also released as a single, it surprisingly didn’t trouble the Top 40, and was a very obvious sign at the time that the band were on their way out of the public conciousness.

The title track also rattles some cages. The subtely produced intro gives way to just Morten and some acoustics, before eventually being joined by a slight orchestral backing. It’s edgy and brave and frankly, rather good. ‘Money talks and hey I’m listening’, offers Harket. ‘I’ve lived without it, enough to miss it’, he mourns. A very effective lament.

‘Rolling Thunder’ is basically ‘son of Crying in the Rain’. Identical storm-effect intro with even the opening laboured notes ringing bells! But apart from that, the two songs are not similar in the slightest. Actually, the Aerosmith-esque ‘Rolling Thunder’ works brilliantly as a confused power-ballad, regularly crossing the lines between pre and post 1990 A-ha style.

Always liking to close an album on something slightly different, ‘(Seemingly) Nonstop July’ is a beautiful, if slightly off-beat, bar tune ballad. Again the use of the ivories and acoustics provide a perfect platform for Morten’s gorgeous vocals. Excellent finale.

So is just the rubbish left? Not by any means. ‘Slender Frame’ again ramps up with a heavy acoustic and electric sound – something quite common on the album. Mildly intriguing and packed with ideas, it is a tune that never realises it’s potential, but still causes no offence. ‘Sycamore Leaves’ is peculiar and something very new for the band – a thumping drum and cymbal rocker which tells the peculiar tale of someone who seems to be ‘covered by sycamore leaves’. There’s a meaning in there somewhere I’m sure.

‘Waiting For Her’, a heart-wrenching pop-ballad is slightly more irritating though and probably belongs firmly in the late 80s/early 90s where hopefully it’ll stay. That’s not to say it’s a particularly bad tune, it just reminds me too much of the many boy-band numbers that came to dominate the charts in the last ten years.

What’s the deal with ‘Cold River’? Crank up the drum and bass as A-ha tighten those bandanas and swing their mics around a bit too enthusiastically. A great verse leads rather disappointingly into a nothing-chorus leaving the track sounding way too disjointed. A real shame, and the biggest missed opportunity on the album. Finally, Mags makes his lead vocal debut on the rather flimsy and forgettable ‘The Way We Talk’.

So what’s the synopsis? A better album than the more successful “Stay On These Roads” and just enough here to catapult it into join-second best A-ha album so far.


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