C'est Cheese!




What's on Dwanollah's stereo?

So, believe it or not, I've finally gone off the Teen Pop kick. What did it? The new a-ha album, Minor Earth/Major Sky.

Please don't say "a-ha...? But weren't they that 80s band that did that one song...?" No, dear. a-ha has put out albums consistently since then, and "Take On Me" isn't even an accurate reflection of their sound. They're easily my second-favorite group (after only the immortal Duran Duran), and my love for them has nothing to do with the fact that, when I went to their show in 1986, Morten pulled me on stage during the encore and danced with me and let me kiss him on the cheek.... (Look, there might be someone who hasn't heard that story yet, so I just figured I'd mention it!) Pa(u)l Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen are amazing songwriters/ lyricists, and Morten is easily one of the greatest singers of our generation. Their music has a moody, kinda U2ish crossed with late Leonard Cohen thing happening. Minor Earth/Major Sky is their first album in seven years, and it's brilliant.  

Whenever I get a new a-ha album, I always anticipate which of the songs is going to be the Repeat Song... you know, the one that I'll listen to on "repeat" all day and still find it as hypnotic and compelling each time...? There's always one per a-ha album, with a couple "close, and if it wasn't for ____, this one would be It"s. (Duran albums are hit and miss with this technique... with a-ha it's always a very evocative song, whereas with Duran, it might be anything! But I digress....) For those poor unfortunate souls who aren’t familiar with a-ha, allow me to provide you with an album by album list of the Best Songs, the ones I still listen to obsessively….

Album 1, Hunting High and Low (1985): this album is kinda an anomaly because it's more synth-pop-ish; the band's really changed since then. But the Repeat Song here is "I Dream Myself Alive." Runner up: "Hunting High and Low."

Bonus Repeat Song: From this era came "Driftwood," the b-side to "The Sun Always Shines on TV"

Album 2, Scoundrel Days, (1986): a little less synth-poppy. Repeat Song: "The Swing of Things." Runner up: "We're Looking for the Whales." (I remember when they did this live on the 1986 tour before the album was released. Magne, the keyboardist, had a little stuffed Shamu on his synth that he kept playing with.)

Album 3, Stay on these Roads, (1988): akin to Scoundrel Days in synth-poppiness, but increasingly complex. Repeat Song: " This Alone is Love." Runners up: "Out of Blue Comes Green" and "You Are the One." Don't make me choose between the two. I can't.

Album 4, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, (1990): This is where you can see the biggest shift in a-ha from synth-popiness to something darker, moodier, more guitar-oriented and increasingly evocative. (This album, incidentally, was produced by Ian Stanley, formerly of Tears for Fears.) Repeat Song: "Early Morning." I can't emphasize it enough. "Early Morning." There are two different live versions on CD of this song that I hoarded at the time, too. I refuse to start collecting bootlegs of a-ha, like we do with Duran. I'd never stop. (That said, I wouldn’t turn down any offers….) Runner up: "East of the Sun."

In 1991, they also released a Greatest Hits, called Headlines and Deadlines (or "Hits and Misses," as I call it). Nothing new, but several of the Repeat Songs are on here, so, at the time, I didn’t have to change CDs as much….

Bonus Repeat Song: The original single version of "Move to Memphis" (1991), released before it was remixed for the forthcoming album. This version is superior to the album one… and the CD it came on has "Early Morning" live, too!

Album 5, Memorial Beach (1993): Even darker and moodier than the last. Repeat song: "Lamb to the Slaughter." Again, "Lamb to the Slaughter." It's a pretty gruesome title for such an amazing song, but, there it is. "Lamb to the Slaughter." Runner up: "How Sweet it Was."

In 1994, they put out a single, recorded for the Olympics in Norway, of course, called "Shapes that Go Together." It's okay.

And then... nothing until now.

Album 6, Major Earth, Minor Sky (2000). Repeat Song: "The Sun Never Shone That Day." Runner up: I still haven't decided. Maybe "Summer Moved On," the current single. We'll see. But just to give you an idea of "when I say Repeat Song, I MEAN Repeat Song…." In my estimation, I listened to "The Sun Never Shone That Day" close to 200 times in a row this weekend. No, I’m not kidding.

Now. a-ha's Top Five (Give or Take) Best Songs EVER!

  1. Early Morning and Lamb to the Slaughter
  2. Driftwood
  3. This Alone is Love
  4. The Sun Never Shone That Day
  5. You Are the One and Out of Blue Comes Green

At least, I think.....

For what it’s worth, a-ha has some real stinkers on 'most every album, too:

HHAL - I wouldn't call "And You Tell Me" stinker, but it's not as good as the rest.

SD - "October" and "Manhattan Skyline." I've tried, so hard, to like "Manhattan Skyline" over the years. Hasn't worked yet.

SOTR - The title track, "Stay on these Roads," is pretty bad. So's "Touchy!" "You'll End Up Crying" is kinda not good, too. It's funny, some of their best songs've come from an album in which, like, half of the songs blow donkey. Lots of stinkers here!

EOTS, WOTM - No doubt, it's "The Way We Talk." What WERE you thinking, guys? There are several other less-than-good songs on here, too... again, one of the best songs on an album with a lot of stinkers on it.

MB - There aren't big, hairy stinkers on this one, like with the previous two, but I still can't get into "Angel in the Snow." Taken as a whole with the album, it's good... but on it's own... eh. And Pa(u)l Waaktaar-Savoy wrote it as a wedding gift to his wife, Lauren Savoy, too. (I just found out they live here in NY. Kewl!) And, again, this album has the Inferior Version of "Move to Memphis" which is actually a great song... if only we hadn't heard the previous version first. Don't like the rockin' chick power vocals on it.

I haven't determined the stinkers on the new album... prolly 'cos I can't get past track 5….