Today’s POP RESCUE from an uncertain future, is the 1986 second album Scoundrel Days from Norwegian synth pop band a-Ha. Will this album be a loveable rogue, or should you Cry Wolf? Read on…
The album opens with title track Scoundrel Days, which begins quite mysteriously, including the lyrics ‘Was that somebody screaming?’. The track has a wonderful ’80s drama sound to it, it’s almost Adam Ant instead of Morten Harket, but then suddenly in the chorus he lets his voice soar, and it’s unmistakably him. The track feels, to some degree, like a companion piece to their Bond theme The Living Daylights of the following year. It’s a great start!
The Swing Of Things follows this and this has a really nice upbeat snare and bass duelling. The bass drum gets to flitter between styles as, as synths gurgle in the background. Here, the vocals almost drift over the top, perhaps oblivious of what the drummer is up to – but it works fine. By the end, the group’s harmonies make them sound a bit like vocals from The Waterboys on The Whole Of The Moon.
Next up is lead single I’ve Been Losing You, and this track is a wonderful little pop song, with delightful soaring vocals from Harket, growing guitars, and perfect harmonies. The bass meanders effortlessly along too, and the song simply flows with great ease, and the thudding bass drum and synth in the final moments hints at an energy uncapped, before turning out just to be a false bottom, and the track returns for an a few moments encore. The single gave the band a #8 UK hit.
Traffic passes on wet roads in the opening of next track October. Here, Morten is all whispery as his lyrics lead him through the cold streets. It’s a simple song, with a drum machine, shuffling percussion, and some brass-like synth tootlings. Morten’s lonely journey in the streets is joined by some whistling to compliment his soft dreamy vocals.
This side closes with single Manhattan Skyline, which gives us some more almost mournful and drifting vocals, but suddenly after they ‘wave goodbye‘, electric guitars drop in, chugging, and a heavy beat arrives, as a-Ha take on an almost rock vocal style. Once more, Harket’s vocals soar effortlessly in this song, but the track just lacks that catchiness and stable melody, making it feel weaker than I’ve Been Losing You. The track gave them a #13 UK peak, which was their lowest position at this point in their career.
Side Two opens with the stadium drums and cheers of hit single Cry Wolf. Suddenly it bursts into a bright and bouncy catchy pop-rock song. I remember getting lots of play in the 80s, and it’s perhaps aided by the almost wolf-howl in Morten’s vocal in the chorus with ‘cry wolf ooh’. The eeriness of the song’s style and topic, pitched against the beats and synths, almost gives it a Thriller quality, without stepping too close.
We’re Looking For The Whales is next, and it begins with a slightly mysterious start, before heading into quite a foot-tapper of a track. The song is lyrically odd – the band sing about how they’re looking for ‘a little bewildered girl‘ but then that they’re ‘looking for the whales‘, which is quite some contrast. It remains unknown whether a-Ha found either, but an unanimous attempt would have helped.
That’s followed by The Weight Of The Wind, which comes galloping with a wave of percussion, and a wave of guitars. The band’s vocal harmonies here are an absolute delight and they offer a powerful contrast as the song evolves with each verse. Clearly this is quite a heavy storm.
Then it’s penultimate track, Maybe Maybe. This seems to start off by sounding like some kind of 80’s cover of a ‘good old days’ 60’s song that could sit comfortably on Russ Abbots’s album. The song playfully bounces along, thanks to a strong beat, a loyal bass companion, and sometimes silly vocals (particularly in the middle with the keyboard solo). ‘I could be wrong, so wrong‘ the band sing, and to be honest, they’re not too wrong when it comes to this song.
The album closes with the dramatic drums and lurking bass synths of with Soft Rains Of April. At times, the vocal performance reminds me of Pulp’s Javis Cocker, aided by some odd vocal performances and almost absent-minded lyrics. It’s an unusual song, but wholly harmless, and then it’s all done.
Over all, this album is a bit of a mixture of sounds.
Whilst Cry Wolf is the peak here, I’ve Been Losing You, titular track Scoundrel Days, and The Weight Of The Wind are all great tracks, some of the other songs here are somewhat abstract, or too disjointed for them to keep the momentum going.
Maybe Maybe was my lowest point, so it’s a Maybe Not from me, but there are some wonderful vocal harmonies nestled within many of these songs too. Harket’s vocals are really able to show off across different styles – from the pop, to the almost folky-dreamy sounds too but it just feels a bit too weighted towards the experimental rather than the catchiness of their preceding hits.
It’s a good enough album, but it’s definitely a few steps off the tried and tested road to a-Ha hits.
- POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1986 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #2, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Marie Curie store.