[Album Review] "Memorial Beach" – a-ha

Memorial Beach - a-haAlbum Title: Memorial Beach
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1993
Running Time: 49m 35s

Track listing: 1 Dark is the Night For All; 2 Move to Memphis; 3 Cold as Stone; 4 Angel in the Snow; 5 Locust; 6 Lie Down in Darkness; 7 How Sweet it Was; 8 Lamb to the Slaughter; 9 Between Your Mama and Yourself; 10 Memorial Beach

“You’re back again…you’re travel-worn…so alone…”

It’s 1993 and a-ha release the follow up to the moderately successful “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” – “Memorial Beach”. If the shift in style began with “East of the Sun”, it was cemented with this album.

The oddly-titled ‘Dark is the Night for All’ kicks us off in fine style in a spectacularly successful homage to U2. A wonderful ballad complete with gentle guitar chords and a rousing chorus.

‘Move to Memphis’ returns in re-recorded form following it’s debut on the 1991 greatest hits collection, “Headlines and Deadlines”. More guitar based, and funky in vocal delivery, it grips in much the same way as it did two year previous. In some ways, a ground-breaking recording for the band’s new style.

Nick Cave meets Bryan Ferry on the swooning ‘Cold as Stone’. For over 8 minutes Morten controls the vocal chords and delivers on what is a particularly absorbing cut. Subtlety of rhythm has never been a strong point for a-ha up till now, but they have it perfected on this album, maybe not more so than on this track.

Famously written by Pal for his wife, Lauren Savoy, ‘Angel in the Snow’ is maybe one of the weaker moments on the record, even if that is testament to the strength of the album overall! There is no doubt that there is a decidedly classic tune screaming to get out, but despite Harket’s best attempts, it just fails to make it as it should. Morten Harket was quoted as saying that it was a song that you “just want to hug”, and yeah, rather crazily it is.

‘Locust’ is probably one of the stand-out tracks. The gloomy, twin-peaks-esque sound is perfectly twinned with eerie, apocalyptic lyrics and visions. Once again, Morten understates his unique-range so as if to deservedly over-emphasise the music and lyrics more so than in the past. Brilliant stuff.

Following on from that, and probably every bit as impressive is ‘Lie Down in Darkness’. The contemporary groove shifts effortlessly from chorus to verse to discharge a powerful mid-tempo tune of some quality. ‘How Sweet it Was’ is another brilliantly arranged rock tune, a hard-edged verse and a beautifully rhythmic chorus backed exceptionally by tempered ivory notes.

Adding another writing credit to his collection, is keyboardist Magne Furuholmen who penned the atmospheric and downbeat ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’. Reminiscent of PJ Harvey or Radiohead, the tune is maybe not developed as well as it might have been, but still ranks as one of Magne’s best works.

Two very different tunes close off the record. The fun, but utter nonsense, of ‘Between Your Mama and Yourself’ certainly packs a cute little hook but you can slot the Graduate-inspired ditty alongside previous pop tunes like ‘Touchy’, ‘Maybe Maybe’ and ‘You Are the One’. Still nice to have something a little more loose on the album. The final track, the title track, is another splendid recording, a beautiful orchestra and piano-based dark ballad.

The fact that this CD was an utter flop in 1993 is a miserable reflection on the record buying public. This is A-ha’s most consistent record to date, and is packed full of superb, brilliantly arranged tunes, once again showcasing the exceptional song-writing talents of Pal Waaktaar. If this had been released by the band who so obviously inspired the opening track, Bono and Co would have been receiving plaudits across the board. Get this – it is essential A-ha.

4star

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