[Album Review] “Analogue” – a-ha

Analogue - a-haAlbum Title: Analogue
Artist: a-ha
Year: 2005
Running Time: 54m 47s

Track listing: 1 Celice; 2 Don’t Do Me Any Favours; 3 Cozy Prison; 4 Analogue; 5 Birthright; 6 Holyground; 7 Over the Treeopts; 8 Halfway Through the Tour; 9 The Fine Blue Line; 10 Keeper of the Flame; 11 Make It Soon; 12 White Dwarf; 13 The Summers of Our Youth

It’s a funny business, the music industry. There they were, persona non grata for so many years, but a few kind words from celebrity pals like Chris Martin and Robbie Williams, and suddenly a-ha have been catapulted back on to the shelves – and not the “40% off marked price” ones either.

Their comeback single, “Analogue (All I Want)”, hit the UK top 10 and this more concisely titled album, “Analogue”, is out now.

Most UK music lovers are unaware that a-ha released a couple of 90s albums before splitting for seven years, never mind their two post-reformation records, “Minor Earth | Major Sky” (2000) and “Lifelines” (2002).

“Lifelines” in particular was criticised for sounding too disjointed, having an army of producers and a heavy Euro-pop sound. For “Analogue”, a-ha have recruited Martin Terefe, producer of KT Tunstall’s “Eye To The Telescope”. If the idea was to move the band far away from their synth-leaning sound, then they’ve achieved that. It’s the best-produced a-ha album since 1993’s “Memorial Beach”.

But does the music match up?

“Celice” may be the first love-song written about a medieval torture device. Full of clever lyrical wordplay (“It’s in the way you hurt me … I know that I’m alive … Wrap yourself around me/Hold me tighter … You sharpen up my senses/I know you’re on my side”), it’s brimming with energy and tight, fast-paced electro-rock chords.

“Don’t Do Me Any Favours” is pretty nifty, full of the twisted bile that we’ve heard a-ha exude before (“You Wanted More”). “You offer your assistance but you won’t accept my help/You draw your own conclusions and there’s room for little else”, the singer complains. The piano track is very Coldplay-like and the middle-eight rough and ready.

Title track “Analogue” has hit written all over it and you can be sure it’s by design. Guitarist, Paul, re-worked the original version of the track with producer Max Martin (Backstreet Boys, Britney) and they came up with a powerful pop-rock number that was their biggest UK hit in 18 years.

When they slow it down, a-ha are often at their best, and once again there are moments of sublime quality here. “Keeper of the Flame” is Paul’s nod to The Beatles, drawing on nostalgic themes and “adolescent daydreams”. In “Birthright” Magne has written a most beautiful, soaring track that would probably make Keane blush and say “ah, yes – that’s the kind of thing we are trying to do”.

“The Fine Blue Line” is another Magne track, and although slow to start and somewhat non-descript, it rescues itself with a bristling final minute or so.

Second single, “Cozy Prison”, is a band favourite although it was found that its lush, dramatic tones were not suited to radio play (it charted at #39). The agoraphobic subject is encouraged to make his or her way in life (“There’s another life out there/And you should try it”), to ignore the “dead ends”, “the dark within” and fight the “panic” (“Every perfect moment is a hidden warning”).

“Holyground” and “Make it Soon” are lead singer Morten Harket’s two contributions. While the former is a polished, mid-tempo tale of faith (“We’re on holy ground/Take your pride/And lift it high”), the latter is more peculiar. With a slight mambo-feel, it starts plainly enough until the middle-eight erupts in to a near-heavy metal onslaught which is as powerful a sound as a-ha have ever recorded. For the most part though, it does little to help out a tune stuck in first gear.

Paul contributes two of the finest pieces on the record – “White Dwarf” is a beautiful, dreamy, melodic notion of intergalactic existence while “Over the Treetops”, featuring Graham Nash on harmonies, is a fine upbeat rocker.  His one misstep though is the Supergrass-meets-Beach Boys muddle of “Halfway Through the Tour. Nice melody, but nothing to write home about. The second half of the song is a dull instrumental coda that is a great advertisement for putting enjoyment before art.

Closing out the record is the Magne and Morten duet, “Summers of our Youth”. A slow-burning piano-led verse leads us in to the more electric-synth chorus. It gets livelier, adds some strings and the contrast between the Magne (verse) and Morten‘s (chorus) vocals works extremely well. Excellent stuff.

Overall the album probably lacks some meat and while it is more consistent than “Lifelines” it doesn’t have the quality song-writing of “Minor Earth | Major Sky”. Well worth getting your hands on.

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