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Friday, March 26, 2010

A-ha: How Can I Sleep With Your Voice In My Head


1) Forever Not Yours; 2) Minor Earth Major Sky; 3) Manhattan Skyline; 4) I've Been Losing You; 5) Crying In The Rain; 6) The Sun Always Shines On TV; 7) Did Anyone Approach You; 8) The Swing Of Things; 9) Lifelines; 10) Stay On These Roads; 11) Hunting High And Low; 12) Take On Me; 13) The Living Daylights; 14) Summer Moved On; 15*) Scoundrel Days; 16*) Oranges On Appletrees; 17*) Cry Wolf; 18*) Dragonfly; 19*) Time And Again; 20*) Sycamore Leaves.

Glossy pop bands do not generally need live albums — it's not like they often feel the need to improvise or pull weird artsy rarities out of their backlog — but this particular proposition from our Norwegian charmers may be worth your attention, anyway. The bad news is that it was recor­ded on the Lifelines tour, and, consequently, feels obliged to include a pinch of dreck from that disaster. The good news is — just about everything else.

Actually, the two important questions here are as follows: (a) will Morten be able to sing all his complex parts live as effectively as he does them in the studio?; (b) will the band's overall sound tend to rock out more — will they, in fact, be able to sound like an actual band? If the answer to even one of these questions were to be «no», the album would have a very good reason not to ex­ist. And with a band as wobbly as A-Ha, you never can predict anything: they are just as capable of ugly blunders as they are of explosions of genius.

Yet it turns out that fortune is on our (and their) side this time. Harket is in great form; not a sin­gle one of these performances has a thing to be ashamed of, and if this is a typical night for A-Ha, he should be welcome to the ranks of the hardest-working live performers in show-biz. Twenty years of performing have not worn him out one bit. I am pretty sure that, today, he curses Waak­taar to high heaven for setting him up with that twenty-second long note on 'Summer Moved On' — but in 2003, at least, he was still able to handle it perfectly (although notice that it does leave him briefly out of breath for the next lines).

As for the overall sound, yes, it is very sensible. Synth pop fans may quibble and complain, but they do some, if not most, of the old numbers with less emphasis on the keyboards and more em­phasis on Paul's guitar riffs, cranking up the volume and churning up a whiff of distortion; check out the difference between the original 'I've Been Losing You', for instance, and this new treat­ment, with the song seriously funkified and enlivened. Even 'Take On Me', while still true to its roots, keeps boiling and boiling and, although the main recognizable synthesizer melody remains intact, Paul eventually takes over and turns it into a power-pop guitar anthem.

Not everyone will be happy about 'The Living Daylights' — a James Bond theme song arranged as the centerpiece of the show, with the audience forced to sing the chorus and a reggae interlude? But I guess a hit is a hit, and this is, after all, A-Ha's most well-known tune (remember that 'Take On Me' is only familiar with the Eighties generation, while 'The Living Daylights' is being regu­la­rly consumed by everyone watching the Bond TV marathons).

If you have the chance, go for the 2-CD edition; the bonus disc offers note-perfect renditions of 'Scoundrel Days' and 'Cry Wolf', a pretty sentimental performance of 'Dragonfly', and Paul taking lead vocals on my personal favourite, 'Sycamore Leaves' — which forms a far more interesting and tasty conclusion to the whole experience than the awesome, but predictable 'Summer Moved On'. (But why have they removed the organ riff? That was the creepiest part!)

How Can I Sleep is not the only live album by A-Ha (the recently released Live At Valhall, from an earlier performance in 2001, is another solid offering), but I do not think there exists a serious reason to own more than one: once you know what their live show looks like, you can sa­fely go back to the studio offerings. Still, if you are still in doubt about the overall validity of this band, I think that it is definitely a shot in the arm to their reputation rather than a kick in the guts. A hearty thumbs up.

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