Album Review: a-ha – Foot of The Mountain

by Tony Butterworth on October 13, 2009

AHA_foot_of_the_mountain

Why am I reviewing a-ha you may ask yourself. Perhaps it’s because I am the most mainstream pop fan around here but in truth it’s because they released a fantastic album, Analogue in 2005, which, even with my very short attention span for music, remains on my playlist on a regular basis. This is not really the a-ha of 80’s “Take On Me” fame, though the members are the same as when the band formed in 1982: lead vocalist Morten Harket, guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and keyboardist Magne Furuholmen, the music they are making has grown up significantly. I am told their lyrics are Christian based but, to be honest, I don’t pay that close attention and just hear great songs. Analogue featured some amazing balladic tunes and I was happy to hear of the Europe-only release of their new album Foot of the Mountain.

The album opens with “The Bandstand,” starting brightly with a great sounding analog synth motif that brings to mind a softer Depeche Mode, this is quickly joined by Harket’s wonderful voice. I feel that his voice could raise any song to a semi-classic. Two verses and then we arrive at a really uplifting and exciting chorus. A great start. Next is “Riding the Crest,” similar 80’s sounding synths open up before the vocals arrive, sung lower this time it’s somehow less inspiring vocally until the chorus arrives and we’re back to the voice-of-angels singing. More of a standard pop song but still enjoyable.

“What There Is” is another mid-tempo synth driven song, at their core these songs are really quite similar to their 80’s chart hits. A quiet verse gives way to another falsetto and beautiful chorus. Title track “Foot of the Mountain” has an interesting history. It’s release was a surprise to fans and it was played on the radio the day after it was recorded in April 2009. There is less bounce, yet it’s another classic pop song. It’s a rousing song, sung by U2 it might sound bombastic but once again the voice takes it to a different place.

2005’s Analogue was a great album, but in truth, it opened well and faded as it went on. By the fifth song things were slowing down. The fifth song here is “Real Meaning.” It starts with another analogue synth bass riff, quickly joined by the lower range version of Harket’s voice. This is the closest, so far, to a ballad (Analogue was primarily ballad based. ) Good news – no slip in quality so far. “Shadowside” is, once again, a slowish song, less analog synth here but, as is becoming the norm here, a rousing chorus.

“Nothing Is Keeping You Here” actually opens with a guitar riff (though it could be a sampled synth I guess). One of the most traditional pop songs on the album with its guitar, bass, drums and piano backbone. It follows the formula, relaxed verse and rousing/interesting chorus.  “Mother Nature Goes to Heaven” has a pounding bass line, very reminiscent of a Depeche Mode / Pet Shop Boys offspring. I don’t know what else to say; it follows the outstanding power chorus formula. In all honesty, the same is true of the last two tracks also. “Sunny Mystery” and  “Start the Simulator” continue to have this quality, and more negatively, the sameness of the rest of the album.  The latter,though,  is more of a plodding song that lacks the rousing chorus.

Another reasonable length, ten track, forty minute, album – As most of us know the tendency to longer albums these days is not giving us more quality. Each song, barring perhaps the last one, will be a pleasure to hear when I shuffle the ol’ iPod but the album lacks the classic ballads that were present on Analogue and suffers from something of a sameness for all 10 tracks.

Watch the video for “Foot of the Mountain”

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Straight Outta Albion is a continuing series of reviews of albums that are available in the UK, but won’t be in the US for quite some time, if ever.

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