The Norwegian trio’s second cinematic release in six months also furthers the case for reconsidering their musical legacy beyond the big pop hits
Ahead of their first album in seven years comes a-ha’s second cinematic release in six months. In a-ha: The Movie, keyboardist-songwriter Magne Furuholmen said “I don’t mind going through the painful bits if we can strengthen the legacy of the band”. With True North this seems to be his, and perhaps the band’s, intent.
a-ha: The Movie focused on the formation and success of Norway’s first international pop band and the tensions and schisms between Furuholmen, Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy as they left their native land for a bedsit in London, very many magazine photoshoots, their breakthrough mega-hit Take On Me and the huge success that followed. In contrast director and long-time collaborator Stian Andersen’s True North finds them reconnecting with their homeland roots, recording a new album live with an orchestra and making the case that, as artists, they deserve to be taken much more seriously than they feel they have been. Now in their 60s (Furuholmen, the youngest of the three, turns 60 in November), there’s a sense too that they’re ready to use their still considerable platform to say serious things. Lead single I’m In gets to the point: “There are times, good times after these… Never give up… Don’t let the forces that pull us apart think they can win.”
Over the beautifully filmed True North’s one hour and 12 minute running time, repeated close-up camera shots reveal lines in their faces. All three are dressed in dark, serious-musician clothes. Sometime poster boy Harket, inadvisedly, has a man-bun. In off stage sequences Furuholmen wears a woollen roll-neck and talks of writing on his boat on the ocean. Waaktaar-Savoy likens his flight from Oslo to London to his father’s migration from the north of Norway to its capital, tracing folk roots backwards to a world well away from ‘80s pop ephemera. While it’s a theme they touched on 20 years ago with Lifelines (the video for which, like True North, also featured dramatic Norwegian landscapes), here they play their new material with the Arctic Philharmonic, and montages of traditional fiery funerals and passionate star-crossed lovers living lives in dramatically moody surroundings tie off the classy serious-musicians music video sensibility.
But an extra narrative layer ties the tracks together and helps elevate this project to something more than a string of music videos. The songs are interspersed with slow pans across epic snow-capped mountains and whale-filled seascapes which capture the vastness of Norway’s wild north, 90kms above the Arctic Circle around Bodø, across which the band members each intone narrative vignettes. Some of these relate to their lives; Fuluholmen recounting writing tracks and being excited to hear Harket sing them is touching after so many years working together. But there’s a clear aim too for a larger picture, one of connection to what’s around us all, that considers environmental degradation, their country’s wealth built on fossil fuels, and a positive future message in favour of biodiversity, sustainability and awareness.
Their penchant for major chords and Harket’s still boyish voice remain at the heart of how a-ha sound, and their legacy will rightly forever include those huge hits that have influenced acts as disparate as Coldplay and The Weeknd. But it’s clear in both their new music and this album’s backstory that there’s much more to hear in a-ha for those willing to listen.
• True North the film is in selected cinemas on 15 September 2022 through Trafalgar Releasing, with listings and further information at ahatruenorth.com
• True North the album is out through Sony on 21 October. Further information on a-ha can be found at a-ha.com