Thursday, February 03, 2011

Hunting High and Low

Veteran new-wave popsters a-ha have certainly come a long way since their embryonic days in the mid-1980s. When they started out back then, they were, rather unjustly, lumped together with the other groups populating the teenybopper-act community. What the detractors failed to realise (and still fail to do after all these years) is that a-ha are markedly different from their contemporaries, mostly in terms of the nature of their compositions and, just as importantly, in their distinctly singular worldview. What separates Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen and Pal Waaktaar from the rest of the 1980s rank and file is the innate melancholia that permeates the majority of their songs, perhaps nurtured by a youth spent enduring bleak Scandinavian winters. This quality comes through most clearly in Waaktaar's elliptical, elegant, oftentimes abstract songwriting, his lyrics dealing with glum subjects like mortality, failed and/or twisted romances, and Kafkaesque existential angst. It’s all deceptively filtered through some accessible radio-friendly melodies, dextrous and polished production, and the secret weapon in a-ha's arsenal: Harket's charged, theatrical tenor. No wonder the critics were fooled. Check out a dynamic live version of one of the group's avowedly splendid classics, 'Hunting High and Low', a sweeping, almost desperate account of chronic loneliness that undoubtedly ranks as one of the best examples of a-ha's unflagging penchant for musical drama.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo! Well-said. As an American fan since Day One, I find it nearly impossible to find anyone in this country who knows any song by a-ha other than "Take on Me." a-ha is too good for America to understand, I suppose. There are fans in this country...they're just hard to find!

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