In 1985, Norse rock gods A-ha ruled the airwaves. Powered by remarkable cheekbones, teen acolytes and a cutting-edge video, they were on the Smash Hits cover most weeks. We worshipped them fervently, but we knew that like Odin, even if they carried on, their fame would inevitably fade. Nobody troubled to tell A-ha this. Secretly they were embarrassed by their boy band status and longed for independence and gravitas. Their first album, ‘Hunting High and Low’ is stuffed full of hits. But their second album was a foreshadowing of the artists they would become.
The title track starts with a gasp and a breathlessly fast synth riff, as Harketsings about desperation and escape. Within four bars we girlies knew that our gods had grown up, and were wrestling with issues we couldn’t understand. Those who listened harder wondered if our gods were trying to escape from us. The second track, ‘The Swing of Things,’ is the best song on the album. This was at least about love, and asked how can I sleep with pooh in my bed, which made us all snicker. The song is about adoring those who are bad for us, and how we stay safe rather than finding those who will make us all we can be. Thirty years on, it still makes me shiver. It’s that good.
There’s a couple of filler tracks before the band remembered that they also needed to sell some singles, and so we get “Manhattan Skyline” and “Cry Wolf” (woooo). Cry Wolf is just a bit daft really, but Manhattan Skyline is closest to their later work, again dealing with long distance love and the pain of having to say goodbye when you’re not entirely sure you’ll be together when you
next meet. Singles done, the remaining songs include spangly nonsense (Looking for the Whales), funny nonsense (Maybe Maybe asks if being thrown out of a car at full speed means all is not well relationship-wise), and then we get back to really serious stuff with ‘The Soft Rains of April’ which finishes with a shiver, echoing the gasp the album begins with.
Scoundrel Days is like an awkward teenager trying to work out who they really are. It lurches from the outstanding to the adequate. A-ha were not Norse gods, they were grown men wanting to sing about the issues they were facing while trying to meet the needs of a teen audience. By their third album, A-ha just decided to be who they were. It was the right choice: their fans grew up
eventually, and when we did we loved A-ha’s later work, which has dated much better than their earlier stuff.
There’s a lot wrong with this album. It is too spangly, too synth-driven, too tinny. And yet, everyone I’ve ever played it to has loved it. It’s intense and driven, it deals with big issues, and has some spectacular vocals to draw it alltogether. Better was to come from A-ha, but this laid the groundwork for their musical adulthood.