The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Three Songs No Flash

A-Ha Live At The O2: Synths For The Boys
Joel McIver , December 10th, 2009 12:57

Laugh all you like. "Norway, douze points", declares Joel McIver

It can’t be that much fun being a pin-up well into your middle age, when bits of you are starting to sag and other bits get wrinkles on them. In the case of Morten Harket, the A-Ha singer with the name like a village in the Cotswolds, it must be pretty fatiguing to have spent the last two decades looking up the nostrils of screaming schoolgirls and (later) screaming mothers, all the while wishing that said gig-goers would accept his band as serious songwriters rather than mere poster boys.

Still, some of the pain must have been taken away after the 4 November show at London’s premier cowshed and wallet-lightener, the O2 Arena. A large space filled with similarly large middle-aged couples and a generally more athletic gay crowd, the O2 is completely soulless, so it’s just as well that A-Ha’s songs are – by and large – loaded with hooks that make you temporarily forget what a vile place it is (and how long it’s going to take you to get home).

The band – Harket plus primary songwriter Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, keyboardist Magne Furuholmen and some session goons – have clearly kept a close eye on modern beat combos like La Roux, judging by the increased synth content and one-finger melodies all over their new album, Foot Of The Mountain. You could be cynical about this, but let’s not go that way, just for a change. The new stuff works fine if you’re in the mood, especially the album’s title track, a billowing piano-led ditty which expands to fill this giant venue with ease.

Here’s the thing. A-Ha’s key strength, in common with stadium-sized acts like U2 and Coldplay who also inhabit the uncool end of the spectrum, is that they deliver songs with melodies that don’t stop once you’ve gone home. Listen to some Napalm Death on the way home if you like: it won’t do any good, you’ll still be singing “Touch me. How can it be?” and “I have lost my way-ay-ay-ay… I’ve been losing you” in the shower the next morning. The songs are like an invading army, engraving themselves onto your cerebral cortex as they march by, headed by a general who smells of Nordic pine and bellows “The Living Daylights!” at you. And you’ll ask for more, too.

If you know A-Ha’s big hits – and you must do, or you wouldn’t have read this far – you can probably predict the rest of the set, which ended with ‘Take On Me’, of course. It was a pretty all-encompassing experience: a large proportion of the crowd were in tears by the time it ended, which says something given that most of them were probably in middle management and worrying about the babysitter. Tellingly, the band were having fun while they drilled the songs into their disciples: Furuholmen wrote ‘Hello’ in giant letters on the backdrop with some sort of light pen and played a comedy, six-inch-long keyboard on ‘Velvet’, while Harket asked the crowd “Do you want to sing this bit?” before doing the batlike squeal that ends ‘Take On Me’. It was amazing, it really was. They’ll be back next year, it being a misconception that this was their farewell tour. Go and see them.