A-HA: FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN (2009)
1) The Bandstand; 2) Riding The Crest; 3) What There Is; 4) Foot Of The Mountain; 5) Real Meaning; 6) Shadowside; 7) Nothing Is Keeping You Here; 8) Mother Nature Goes To Heaven; 9) Sunny Mystery; 10) Start The Simulator..
Yes, I do believe that only a serious decision to split up for good could have redeemed the release of Foot Of The Mountain. It does not happen too often when an artist releases his weakest effort right after his strongest one, and it is an even more rare case when it is so very easy to precisely pinpoint what the hell went wrong, and so very hard to understand why it went so wrong.
The melodies are okay. All the songs are originals, and expert songwriters like Paul and Magne do not simply shed their pop skills overnight. This is A-Ha all right, simple, but effective keyboard chord changes and Morten «Penthouse Romance» Harket's angelic croon all over them. But for some devilish reason, someone in the devil's personal pay suggested that it would be nice to revisit the band's original synth-pop style. After all, Sixties' nostalgia does not pay off so well any more — whoever buys records when they're over sixty? But Eighties' nostalgia — now we're talking. Lots of hungry fourty-year olds out there, yearning for another 'Take On Me'. And even those old hairstyles, ridiculed and seemingly forgotten a long time ago, are on the verge of becoming fashionable once more.
And so Foot Of The Mountain takes the plunge; but these guys are not adolescents any more, they could not really produce another 'Take On Me' even under the threat of having their entire catalog pulled off the shelves. The final result sounds like a clumsy cross between the cheesy, but explosive synth-pop of Hunting High And Low and the boring, overproduced, meaninglessly modernistic pap of Life(less)lines. If there are good songs buried here — and I freely admit this possibility — they are not merely buried, but nailed tight to their coffin with the finest in electronic stakes.
The synth tones that Magne is choosing do sound fairly close to what it used to be, but they do not, cannot, need not, must not convey any real emotion. Listen to the ten seconds that open the album ('The Bandstand'): this is what it all sounds like, more or less. Silly techno sounds, but this time around, without the youthful drive that somehow redeemed them in the past. Just silly, forgettable techno sounds.
I refuse to name individual songs or discuss them. Re-record them with guitars and pianos and we might resume this discussion. (Actually, the title track that is dominated by a piano melody, is the closest it ever gets to an effective song). As it is, I personally will prefer to think that the true swan song of A-Ha sounded four years earlier, with Analog. Foot Of The Mountain is merely an afterthought, a misguided, clueless «gift» to their oldest fans. Quite likely, some of the oldest fans may have been pleased with it. More power to them! I give it a thumbs down. And — how dare they even say 'Riding The Crest' has been inspired by Arcade Fire's Neon Bible!