11 September 2015

A-ha - Cast in Steel

This album really should not exist: Back in 2010 after the release of 'Foot of the Mountain', A-ha retired and stated that was it, end of the line, finito and other words to describe the fading of the band.  That album had been a successful release for the band - top ten around the Europe, a farewell tour that makes took them around the world and time to move onto other projects.  However that was not the end, there has been the odd one off reunions every now and then, such as performing "Stay on These Roads" at a memorial service for the victims of attacks in Norway in 2011.  By the end of September, they will have performed in the latest Rock in Rio festival to mark the 30th anniversary of their first album 'Hunting High & Low'.  Now I am not going to say I am unhappy that A-ha are back together, they are responsible for one of the few albums I have owned over more than one format (and I have no doubt I will purchase again someday).  But a new album from them is not truly expected, time to see how it has turned out.

Opening the album is the title track - "Cast in Steel" which is an instant classic for this listener; it has luscious strings, a reliable and simple backing from a bass, guitar and drums, wonderful synths and that voice of Morten Harket which still sounds as rich as it did all those years ago.  The song is a pop song, it might not change the world and it sounds as if it has the measure of experience that comes from age that starts off with style.  "Under the Makeup" is the second song on the album, it was the first to be released as a single off the record and it looks at the end of relationships, it sounds like they are trying to do their second James Bond song as it could have easily been used in the upcoming adventure from 007.  It is another song that has a massive string section behind the band and it sounds heart breaking, it is well crafted but not something to put on if your day is anything other than rosy.  Wonderfully crafted, but harsh on the soul.  "The Wake" sounds like a pop version of Depeche Mode from their darker 'Violator' period, it has is a good tune but not necessarily a great one.  The second single to have been released off this album is called "Forest Fire", it is full of the rich instrumentation that the band have become renowned for.  It is not filling me with the excitement that I have when I listen to other songs on this record, it is just a little too dull for me which is a shame.

"Objects in the Mirror" once again feels like it has taken influence from Depeche Mode, it has a feeling that the band are looking back over their collective shoulders and the past is not too far away from their thoughts.  Some of the lyrics are a little bit too basic - rhyming the word far with car, sweet with feet, etc; but it this is a pop song and not the work of prog rock legends, for what it is worth the song is very good and I am just a cynical old man who is obsessed by lyrics.  "Door Ajar" automatically reminds me of Emerald Park, it has that similar sound to their song "Hamburg" and that is fine by me.  It sounds like a song that would start a night out for me, it makes me feel slightly wistful.  It is another song that looks back towards former loves and the mood of the piece fits the song very well.  Seventh track on the album is "Living at the End of the World", it feels like they are aiming for the dramatic once more and to be honest at this point I am just longing for a simple pop song that they used to craft and whilst it is not a bad number, it is also becoming par of the course for this album.  After this we are introduced to "Mythomania" and this is both the best song of the album and the silliest number at the same time.  Let me explain, just like "Cast in Steel" it is a very simple song that A-ha have always excelled in; but contained in this song is one of the cheesiest set of lyrics of the whole album.  The chorus the place where they manage to rhyme mythomania with other words, the rest seems to be a tale of redemption and whilst it is cheese pop, it is done with a style and sense of fun that I have missed from music.  But it is pop music, it is not meant to be held as anything other than this and this song is my favourite of the album

The last third of the album starts with "She's Humming a Tune" and it is a tale of avoidance; it is a situation that people have had to sadly face all the time and it is the subject of this little pop tune.  It is a small drama to the back drop of a pop song; this is a song that requires the dramatic and it gets it, the song is decent if not perfectly to my taste but a standard track for this album.  "Shadow Endeavours" is the tenth track on the record, the song is looking at the consequence of one actions that can befall people but also saying that they should not pay any attention to them either.  Musically I am sensing the style of Moonbabies and Emerald Park with this song, it is a good number that does not rock the boat or change anything that I am feeling about the album; once again it is a decent number on this album.  The penultimate song is called "Giving up the Ghost" and once again the Depeche Mode feeling comes back to the album; of all the epic string led numbers of the album, this is the best of that bunch of the album.  It has the necessary drama for the lyrics and where it is placed on the album as well, it is a great song that shows that they have not forgotten how to create numbers that can send shivers up and down the spine.  However I feel it should have ended the album, as the ending song "Goodbye Thompson" is just weak sauce.  Akin to the slow holiday song of years gone by, it has all the feelings of an ending song of that I have no doubt; but it is also an awful song to end the album as it is just plain dull, it is a shame the album ends on that track.

I am not too sure what to make of this record much the same what that I have not been too sure what to do with the fact they got back together in the first place, it has been thirty years since the world stood up and took notice when "Take on Me", "Train of Thought" and "The Sun Always Shines On TV" ruled the airwaves.  So why come back?  They had ended on a beautiful album beforehand and this album sort of feels unnecessary to the cause, why come back with an album that does not equal their other work?  Well, sadly that is what they have done here with 'Cast in Steel'; the songs are by and large good songs, some decent, a few not so good.  I think that sometimes less is more and they tend to go for the dramatic a little too often, which dilutes the value of some of the song here; you do not need every song to be an anthem.  It is a pop record so it is not exactly designed to be anything other than a good record, but by holding it against what A-ha have created and done beforehand it does not add up - once again, sadly nothing more than decent.

6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there

Top track - Mythomania

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the A-Ha website here

You can follow their activities on Facebook here

You can stream the album (with bonus disc tracks) on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here (again with the bonus disc tracks)

Again, you can stream the album on Tidal with the bonus tracks here

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