The right time for a-ha to say goodbye

Morten and PaulDepending on which re-written press release you read today you’ll learn that a-ha were formed anywhere from 25 to 27 years ago, split up in the nineties for anywhere from five to seven years and got back together in 1998 – or is that 1999?  No, it was 2000 apparently.

What you will unanimously learn and can safely take as fact is that the Norwegians have decided to retire as a band in 2010, marking the 25th anniversary of the release of their first album “Hunting High and Low”.

There are a significant number of people raising their eyebrows pondering how it is that the day they find out a-ha are still together is the day they find out that they’re splitting up.

But for many who stuck with a-ha through the last 25 years this announcement will have come as a shock.  Didn’t they always reason that the band would split when they stopped selling records and people stopped coming to see them?  Why would a band who have just claimed their highest charting UK album in over two decades, a succession of #1 albums in Europe and a stream of long-overdue critical acclaim from the media and – more importantly – their peers, pack it in?

Well those achievements are exactly why this is the right time to say goodbye.

In the brilliant rockumentary, “The Making of Pump“, Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford says of the recording process: “You can record with 48 tracks, 96 tracks, you can start tying tape machines together.  You got to know when to stop.”

The music industry is full of acts that didn’t know when to stop.  A-ha made that mistake before, rendered irrelevant by the grunge explosion of the early nineties just at the same time they were growing their hair and growing up.  They endured dwindling sales, smaller live venues and bruised egos, and went one album too far with 1993’s (admittedly excellent) “Memorial Beach” before splitting to work on solo projects.

Their 2000 return was a huge success in mainland Europe and they scored their first UK top ten hit single for 18 years in 2005 with “Analogue“.  Yes, they recorded a big hit album this year but that accomplishment almost seems incidental compared to the reaction they received.

Looking at their positive demeanour in interviews and on stage it seems that the genuine warmth they’ve experienced from the media, the public and the many acts of today who have publicly heralded their influence, has completed the circle for the band.

What else is there to achieve?  Where else can they go?  If respect and appreciation was measured in record sales then a-ha have just had their biggest hit in 25 years.  And shouldn’t everyone quit when they’re on top?

Personal addendum

I opened the Google News email alert for “a-ha” that arrived in my inbox and kind of squinted at it.

a-ha to split

It didn’t make any sense to me initially.  And even after I clicked on it my mind was calculating that somehow I had received some old news story from the mid 90s.  Although I’ve no time for overt obsession with something as relatively meaningless as a musical act, I felt my chest tighten as the news started to sink in.

I grew up with a-ha; the soundtrack of my formative years.  I’ve probably mentioned it somewhere on the site – and I’m sure there are hundreds of similar stories out there somewhere – but when you’re 12 and unsure of yourself, songs like “Here I Stand and Face the Rain” articulate what you’re feeling when you are too young to understand.

The Blue Sky“, from their debut record, resonated with this insecurity: “I find it hard to breathe as life just eats away…The lady at my table doesn’t want me here/I just want to talk to her/But would she laugh at my accent and make fun of me?…Though i’m older than my looks and older than my years/I’m too young to take on my deepest fears“.

So here we are almost 25 years later and I’m not sure that I would have the level of understanding and self-awareness that I do if it wasn’t for a-ha’s influence (alongside John Hughes movies and Nirvana).  I’m trying to avoid being mawkish in closing but the fact that their music has endured with such meaning for so many people, means that Morten, Magne and Paul can stand in the doorway of the darkened studio for the final time, look around, smile and say “our work is done here”.

Edit: Please see Karen’s blog on the same subject.  Some very personal memories from their mid 80s touring.

12 thoughts on “The right time for a-ha to say goodbye

  1. You’re probably right G:man – and let’s it face (well actually you already have faced it, but I’m sure others haven’t) it’s gotta end sometime and FOTM is probably the best album post-reunion….

    A few quick comments (as a small person is making a “I’ve just woken up, so come and entertain me” ruckus):

    “one album too far” *splutters* One of their best efforts and would have loved to see what would have followed if not for Mr Harket’s solo skull duggery. Actually we ended up getting Savoy, and in many ways their artistic output has surpassed a-ha’s over the years.

    I approached the “Personal addendum” with great interest, only to be disappointed. I then realised I had misread “Personal addendum” as “Personal appendage”.

    Thanks muchly for the text. For some reason it will not let me text back and keeps failing 😦 Or perhaps that’s how you keep your wild groupies away. Glad I decided to check my messages as soon as I woke up…. wouldn’t want to have had to have written “On the toilet” as my “Where were you when you heard a-ha broke-up”……. Glam.

    More seriously, you captured what a-ha has meant to many of us – especially the 30-somethings who found a-ha’s music expressed their teen angst better than they could themselves. I would say it’s a bit of a farewell to youth – but since I’m turning 36 in just over a week I think I missed to boat by a loooooooooooooooooooooooooong margin regarding youth farewells!!!! Still it’s a good time to pull out the vinyl and give those formative early a-ha albums a really good listening to 🙂

    1. Hello Kjatastic. Just to address your main splutter up there – at no point am I suggesting MB is a poor album. I even label it “excellent” and link to my four-star review. The point is made in the context of the “dwindling sales, smaller live venues” and the clear perception that a-ha had outstayed their welcome by that point.

      Next blog may be about my personal appendage and thank you for the comments…

      By the way, I finally got that text reply it seems.

  2. Superb blog Graham. I got that Google news alert too while sitting at work, a moment I’ll never forget…….what you’ve said here has made me feel better. Thank you.

  3. I received a text from Mer, and whilst I know she wouldn’t bullshit me, I refused to believe it. After rediscovering A-ha back in 2006 it’s been a huge inspiration to know they never really went away, a band whose music I always held dear in my heart even through the odd Matrix-like phenomenon of having not realised they were still a band.
    I’ve made so many friends with all of you guys, fellow fans from around the world, and I’ll always be glad for that.
    I always felt incredibly privileged to have A-ha back in my life, to be able to go and see them live in Liverpool for the notorious Pants Of Justice saga in 2006, and again soon in London. I always knew this day would come, but not quite yet – it seemed there was more to come yet.
    But I feel this is a positive decision for the guys to concentrate on their many other projects, and I look forward to following them, especially Apparatjik, Magne’s art, as well as their solo music and Savoy.
    I just couldn’t help feeling slightly grieved at the news, even though part of me said “well, they split up before….” to try and numb the unexpected effect.
    Now we all stand and face the rain 😦

    1. Yeah I know what you mean. Part of me was a bit put out by the news but then also slightly relieved too. I do feel it’s the right decision (which you know – that was the name of the blog). They don’t want to end up as the musical equivalent of Zinedine Zidane.

    2. Helen, I got to know from it through a text from Mer who got to know it through a text from furu-Karen. The news apparently spread in minutes among the “inner-circle”.

      I can understand their decision, it’s better to stop now instead of waiting for a decline. They’re not getting younger anyway… It only reminds us we’ve grown older too! 😉

      Graham: “Here I stand and face the rain” is the perfect soundtrack for this!

  4. Great blog Graham. Don’t want you to think that i’m wanting some man love in here but i do agree 100% with what you say and i can see what you are trying to say about MB……right album but perhaps at the wrong time.
    Yes they’ll be a miss but at least they have decided to split at a time they want to, when it’s their choice and not letting someone else make it for them…i.e god!
    They have brought many differant people together from many differant backgrounds at from my time on CAS and meeting folk such as yourself i feel that there is a bond between a-ha fans that i don’t think other bands can relate to.
    We’ve been lucky to have been part of something special for 25 years and i feel they have been lucky to have had us too……it’s been a blast!

    1. You know, that’s a great response Bryan (and I don’t want man love either – unless it’s cheap). They have brought people together, they have gone on their terms and gone out on top. Good stuff.

  5. Well, well.

    So far I’ve not really had an emotional response to the announcement of the split – reading your blog is the closest I’ve got to one.

    For me, that actually says quite a lot :0)

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