An act from the 1980s about whom I know very little is the Norwegian group a-ha. I do feel a little ashamed of that actually, because listening to their best of compilation proves they actually have quite a bit to say for themselves. This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of their debut album Hunting High and Low, so let’s take a listen!
The album, like their whole career, really has to open with the brilliant Take on Me. It is, of course, one of those songs which really captured an era, with its unusual and inventive video, and its catchy mid-80s sounds.
Train of Thought is less remarkable, although they’re definitely giving it plenty of welly. This was the fourth of five singles in some territories, and there’s really nothing wrong with it to speak of – it just seems a little bit faster than it needs to be and it’s not quite as catchy as it should be. With barely a moment’s rest, we’re onto the title track and final single Hunting High and Low.
This is, thankfully, a much slower song, and really goes a long way towards proving a-ha were more than just another daft pop act. Back home in Norway, they scored a ridiculous amount of number 1 singles, and all but one of their albums hit the top spot. Their UK and US success was a little more subdued, but was entirely deserved nonetheless.
The quality doesn’t let up with The Blue Sky either – although the introduction does let the rest of the song down somewhat. When it gets going, though, it turns out to be a great song. Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale, on the other hand, starts off extremely promisingly, but ultimately just sounds unfinished. It’s really not bad, but given the calibre of the songs we’ve heard so far, it truly pales into insignificance.
Side B opens with the entirely brilliant third single The Sun Always Shines on TV. As with Take on Me, it’s memorable and catchy, and became their only UK number 1. It’s not really clear what he’s singing about (or, more specifically, why he’s singing about it) but this isn’t the sort of song where that matters particularly. This is pop music at its best.
Unfortunately, very little of the second half of the album lives up to the promise of the previous tracks. And You Tell Me is a short, forgettable piece with a nice bass line and very little else. Love is Reason is a timely reminder why the 1980s are commonly remembered for their vacuous cheesy pop. There’s really very little else you can say about this one – it’s total drivel. Even I Dream Myself Alive is little better – it does feel as though they put rather more effort into Side A than Side B.
The final track Here I Stand and Face the Rain picks things up again somewhat, although it was really never going to be a single. There isn’t a huge amount to it, but it does wrap up the album nicely, and serves as a worthwhile reminder of just how good some of the earlier tracks were.
So Hunting High and Low is a promising, if somewhat schizophrenic debut. If you own one of their singles compilations but haven’t got as far as buying this yet, you could probably wait a while longer, but if it was still 1985 I would probably be recommending buying it. And in spite of its shortcomings, it’s really not a bad first album.
You can still find the double disc special edition of Hunting Hugh and Low at major retailers, including special bonus stuff.