These days, a-ha are something of a rarity, an ’80s synth group that have actually, finally, definitely split up – ostensibly, “for good”. They even entitled their final tour Ending On A High Note, as if to hammer the fact home that this would quite literally be ‘it’ for them as a group entity. It’s a shame, because the band’s final hurrah, 2009’s Foot Of The Mountain, was a real treat. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Out Of My Hands, Morten Harket’s fifth solo effort, and there’s the lingering sense that his talents would have been far better put to use if the band had stuck together.
Scared Of Heights kicks proceedings off as the perfectly rounded MOR pop record. Perhaps almost too perfect. There’s none of that gentle, organic touch that so often made a-ha’s records such a unique joy for pop fans to listen to. Still, it boasts the album’s most memorable chorus hook by far, and it’s to the record’s detriment that it can’t capitalise on what’s actually a reasonably promising opening.
The album’s chief sin is the programmed, safe predictability of it all; almost as if a record label exec has built a robotic replica of Harket in their office, programmed it to pump out songs, flicked the switch and stood back to await the results. The end product is seamlessly functional, but utterly without soul, and lacking any kind of drive or enthusiasm to be relevant.
So many of the early tracks on Out Of My Hands drift by without leaving any resonant mark on the listener, and at times, sound positively outdated. The likes of I’m The One and Lightning are overly-plastic attempts to recreate past glories, limp and formulaic. The whole record feels like it’s been shoved through the filter of a Radio 2 playlisting meeting and even when it does hint at something of merit, it’s nothing a-ha haven’t done 10 times better in the past. Indeed, the rough, bluesy guitar riffs of When I Reached The Moon sound like they’ve been dredged straight out of a yesteryear session tape, a paltry pound shop recreation of a-ha’s own The Blood That Moves The Body.
Harket’s vocals are flawless as ever throughout, but that’s a given – what’s of more concern is the production, which often comes across as clumsy. While Harket’s contemporaries Vince Clarke and Martin Gore are busy taking time out from their respective groups to create an intelligently daring techno banger of an album as VCMG, Out Of My Hands feels indulgent and largely forgettable.
It’s not without some redeeming moments. The spacey pulse and flow of Burn Money Burn is a rewarding highlight, while the threatening bassy pump of Just Believe It sounds like it’s gunning for the soundtrack of the next big Nordic crime thriller. Garnished with icy piano lines and a positively bizarre industrial middle-eight breakdown, Harket sounds like he’s channeled Trent Reznor on the day he recorded this one.
The Pet Shop Boys-penned Listening inflates itself up on the back of suitably epic synth chords and ends up conveying more than a faint flavour of OMD in their prime. Cathedral-esque in its scale, it paints a beautifully hesitant, tender picture of romance: “If it helps to take me to those dark extremes, the meaning of your dreams, the way you thought… just talk… I’m listening.” Neil Tennant always was a master at conveying the little intricacies that define the day to day accoutrements of a relationship, and the verses here are him at his lyrical best: “I know your tastes in food and wine, but never really what’s on your mind, what’s going on inside your head.”
Out Of My Hands is by no means awful – and as the debut effort from some bright young pop talent it might have even been borderline impressive. But so often devoid of any real pleasure, depth or feeling, it pales away into insignificance when placed alongside Harket’s previous output.