One of the most emotive and boyish voices of the ’80s is back; older, darker and otherwise every bit as smooth. Morten Harket’s chiselled looks won a-ha much interest, culminating in their James Bond tune The Living Daylights and the monster hit The Sun Always Shines On TV. But in the early 1990s the Norwegian supergroup’s pop success stopped suddenly as the group drifted apart.
Following a request from no less a body than the Nobel committee to play again, the threesome became reunited. Minor Earth Major Sky was the result, their critically acclaimed comeback album as an older, wiser and far more serious band.
Lifelines picks up, to an extent, where Minor Earth Major Sky left off and marks an evolution of a-ha’s sound, rather than a revolution. Harket’s trademark vocals sound virtually unchanged and there are still dramatic orchestral sweeps in various tunes, coupled with pop beats and a willingness to experiment with technology. But the mood is darker, more pensive and less immediate.
Another striking aspect of this album is its disjointedness. The way in which the band put it together was far from conventional, the various members contributing their own songs and then listening to the ideas of new and established producers. Various writers and various producers do not a seamless album make, especially when the band chose to use all the production ideas presented to them. We get pop-techno on Did Anyone Approach You, sweeping and dramatic string arrangements on the title track, and an attempt at industrial-lite on You Wanted More.
It is, however, pleasingly not formulaic, which, for a pop record these days is something of a result. At 15 tracks it weighs in on the long side, but this is an obvious manifestation of cramming as many ideas into one album as possible. The band reckon they recorded enough material for two albums – but when weaker tracks like Forever Not Yours and There’s A Reason For It creep in to the mixture, they obviously haven’t been ruthless enough in their selection.
Yet there are fine moments here. The title track and You Wanted More, plus the excellent duet Turn The Lights Down, all present modern-day a-ha at their finest.
Lifelines won’t make a new audience of fans for the band, but it will give their current and still loyal fanbase something of a fillet, with enough material of worth to constitute a welcome return to mainstream pop consciousness for a-ha.