[Album Review] “Scoundrel Days” – a-ha

Scoundrel Days - a-haAlbum Title: Scoundrel Days
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1986
Running Time: 39m 9s

Track listing: 1 Scoundrel Days; 2 The Swing of Things; 3 I’ve Been Losing You; 4 October; 5 Manhattan Skyline; 6 cry Wolf; 7 We’re Looking for the Whales; 8 The Weight of the Wind; 9 Maybe Maybe; 10 Soft Rains of April

In 1986, A-ha were coming off massive success – a huge selling debut album, four top ten singles and a fanbase hungry for more of the same. It had only been twelve months since “Hunting High and Low” and already the band had made leaps, albeit small ones, with their musical style. A heavier reliance on recognised instruments more so than the rather cliched 1980s keyboard/drum machine approach, helped to emphasise their writing qualities a lot more than before.

Their second album, “Scoundrel Days”, was to spawn three more massive hit singles – ‘I’ve Been Losing You’, ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘Manhattan Skyline’.

The title track starts us off with Morten almost whispering his paranoid ramblings from under his duvet. But the edgy keyboard refrain soon gives way to a loud and committed band performance where Morten roars mysterious lyrics such as; ‘i reach the edge of town, i got blood in my hair, their hands touch my body, from everywhere’. Wonderful stuff, and should have really been a single.

The familiar keyboard sound returns for ‘The Swing of Things’. But this is a beefy number which slows down effectively for the chorus and picks up again during the verse. The almost-accapello mid-section performance from Morten is wonderful, and the song moves towards fade with a super vocal stretch from the lead singer – another quality tune.

But it is the first single from the album which steals all the plaudits. ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ is a remarkable tune which combines maturity and imagination way beyond their relatively novice years. Thundering drums, fast-paced guitar riff, strategically placed horn sections, powerful lyrics and a false ending, which returns heavier than ever before fading again. One of the bands timeless tracks, right up there with ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ and ‘Take On Me’.

The next two tracks are also well worth the purchase price. ‘October’ is a somber but catchy number which relies on Morten hissing and sighing through much of it in order to give it an angle as such. However, one can’t deny this rather pleasing tune is as relaxing as it is charming. ‘Manhattan Skyline’ turned out to be the third and final single released from the album, and in fact was the first of A-ha’s seven releases to date, not to make the top ten (it made #11). Certainly very different, the track has long been a favourite of fans. From it’s slow and delicate entree, to it’s loud and brash chorus, to it’s thoughtful post-chorus verse, ‘Skyline’ is eventful, and exciting to listen to.

‘Cry Wolf’ was the second single but I’m dumbfounded as to why. It’s very much old-school sound here as the keyboards carry this song pretty much through on it’s own, but it’s one-dimensional style is only really bearable for the reflective mid-song section. However, the track was a huge hit and out-performed both of the far-superior songs released from this album.

‘We’re Looking for the Whales’ is not much to write home about. Pleasant enough, but essentially pointless outside of some gentle foot-tapping. ‘The Weight of the Wind’ is much better, even if it is another throw-back to the older sound. Slightly atmospheric, some nice epic touches and effective backing vocals elevate this above average status.

Upbeat and perky, ‘Maybe Maybe’ has either one of the most tongue-in-cheek, or most woeful lyric ever – ‘Maybe it was over when you chucked me out the Rover at full speed’. It’s a decent tune, if a little light weight, but in the 1986/87 pop landscape it probably could have been a huge hit. Closing off the album is the dated, but harmless, ‘Soft Rains of April’.

This album contains some of the best material the band have written in their career, but is weighed down by more filler than their debut album, leaving you slightly underwhelmed.ability to do it all again? The rock world will be a better place if he does.


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