a-ha | Foot of the Mountain (Universal Int'l.)

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cd_aha.gifSongs such as "The Bandstand," "Foot of the Mountain" and "Mother Nature Goes to Heaven" are instant a-ha classics: catchy keyboard lines, solid guitar accompaniment, and the best pipes to ever come out of Norway.







It's no surprise that Foot of the Mountain, a-ha's ninth studio release, begins with a catchy keyboard line. Also to be expected is Morten Harket's soft, smooth and swelling falsetto: always inviting, often awe-inspiring (have you heard how long he holds that note on "Summer Moved On"? Incredible). I suppose that, as Americans, we should also not be shocked by the fact that Foot of the Mountain wasn't released in the United States...again.

This is the digital age, however, and music can be bought and downloaded in an instant; no more spending outrageous sums then waiting for air mail to deliver. As a long-time a-ha follower (yes, I do have every single release; what of it?), I've never been happier to live in the 21st century. Though most of my countrymen consider a-ha a one-hit wonder ("Hunting High and Low" was 24 years ago; the band has released countless songs since then), I've stayed abreast of their releases, finding something to love about each one.

Though Foot of the Mountain isn't my favorite-ever a-ha album—of this decade's releases, I'm still quite fond of 2002's Minor Earth Major Sky—it's certainly one that will receive plenty of spins on my iPod. Songs such as "The Bandstand," "Foot of the Mountain" and "Mother Nature Goes to Heaven" are instant a-ha classics: catchy keyboard lines, solid guitar accompaniment, and the best pipes to ever come out of Norway. Overall, the album's an uplifting listen, equally enjoyable through headphones or as background music while driving. (It's OK; go ahead and belt that one out. It's good, yes?)

a-ha opens things with "The Bandstand" and these vivid lines from Harkett: "You stand in the doorway/ A block up the street/ Ringing the doorbell/ There's tapping of feet/ High yellow hair/ And a worn brown suit.../ Enter, and break the news." In the band's best work, a-ha tells stories, paints characters, reveals worlds. Nearly a quarter century on and the guys-the original lineup—Harket, Magne Furuholmen (Mags) and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy—still have it.

"Shadowside" is a slow burner; you sense the guitars wanting to amp it up but Harket's voice keeps things well in control. The anthemic "Nothing Is Keeping You Here" finds Harket observing: "From the world; detached/ Unto a girl you latched/ It never got too far." Simple, yet brilliant. On the uplifting "Mother Nature Goes to Heaven," lush instrumentation builds a wall of gorgeous sound over which Harket lays his voice. "Sunny Mystery" seems to soar atop a warm breeze, while album closer "Start the Stimulator" ends with the dream-filled promise of more: "We're going to fly so high/ Into the rendered sky/ We're going to be all right/ Inside the endless night."

Maybe the three guys in a-ha sold their souls to the devil. Their music's as good as ever, their lyrical insights are remarkable, they can't seem to put out a bad album (hell, I can't even name a single song that's bad-oh, wait, "Touchy" comes close). Perhaps the real proof, though, lies in the fact that the guys don't look old enough to have been making music for 25 years...masters every one of them. A- | Laura Hamlett

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