A-HA: STAY ON THESE ROADS (1988)
1) Stay On These Roads; 2) The Blood That Moves The Body; 3) Touchy!; 4) This Alone Is Love; 5) Hurry Home; 6) The Living Daylights; 7) There's Never A Forever Thing; 8) Out Of Blue Comes Green; 9) You Are The One; 10) You'll End Up Crying.
A couple listens into A-Ha's third album, I have decided to convince myself that 'Stay On These Roads' is one of the most gorgeous synth-pop ballads ever written, and one of the best pieces of evidence for the genre not being so utterly worthless. However, I do not quite understand the reasons that drove me to such action, and I am not even sure that I have the proper strength to perform it.
For one thing, the «synth-pop» aspect of this song totally sucks: there have been cases when Eighties-style adult contemporary arrangements managed to contribute to a true atmosphere of lushness and beauty (Enya!!!), but, by the time A-Ha's third effort rolled along, it should have been perfectly clear that their music gets progressively better when these arrangements are muted and muffled in favor of real instruments, and vice versa. 'Stay On These Roads' is no exception.
But what does work in its favor is the utterly gorgeous vocal delivery. Harket literally pulls all the stops: there is the tender falsetto, there is the towering scream, there are the hushy interludes, and there are just about all the transitional states there could be. Over and over again I wish they'd recorded the whole thing completely acappella, or in a more «classical» style, never feeling entirely secure that the song would have benefited from that, but secretly hoping it would. My senses are too jaded and withered for the song to completely re-awaken the idealistic romantic in me, but maybe there is still some hope for those whose favourite Sixties' artist is Scott Walker (not that I dare to compare the genius of Scott with the machinery of A-Ha, but this is the exact reason why I like so much to concentrate on the vocal gift of Harket while trying very, very hard to sonically erase the surround sound from the accompanying acoustic waves).
Other than the title track, though, there is little to praise about the album. Most people know 'The Living Daylights', a fairly common synth-popper used as the title theme to one of the least successful James Bond movies ever (probably not due to A-Ha's involvement in it, but one can never tell), and some may know the other two singles — 'The Blood That Moves The Body', mid-tempo and boring, and 'Touchy!', fast and ugly. Back in 1988, they coped with their duty of stimulating the average white male's biorhythms fairly well, but today, they have been replaced with other (not always better) ways of stimulation, and seem completely useless.
Two moodier, less psychologically comfortable tracks arguably stand a better chance: 'Hurry Home' is a relatively convincing portrayal of a prodigal husband aching to make things right once again, and, likewise, the epic 'Out Of Blue Comes Green' also puts Harket in a hysterically confessional mood and somehow works, despite the length. Overall, I would say that «Harket the Repenting Sinner» appeals to me better than «Harket the Disney Lover» — not only because that role is less clichéd in general, but also because Harket himself seems to get into his tormented mood with more spirit and dedication than into his sweet and soothing one. Somehow I would not want to take a peep at the hidden corners of his soul, even if an offer were made, not even out of pure curiosity.
Thumbs down: too little of this solid enough melodically to get the same attention as Scoundrel Days, and on my Top Ten Thousand, 'Stay On These Roads' probably hits something like #9,876, if we are to strive for useless accuracy. Still, like almost every A-Ha album, it is at least listenable and shows that the band still cares for a certain degree of artistic integrity to go along with the big bucks (and even the bucks were not that big in 1988, to tell the truth).