Deep Dive: a-ha, MEMORIAL BEACH

Friday, May 25, 2018

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, we thought we’d do a Deep Dive into an underrated album by a Norwegian band whose albums beyond their debut are already pretty darned underrated to begin with. If that doesn’t qualify as a Deep Dive candidate, we don’t know what is. 

In 1993, a-ha was not exactly riding high in the American pop culture consciousness: for as much success as the trio had found with their 1985 debut, HUNTING HIGH AND LOW, they didn't break the top-40 hit with their 1986 sophomore LP, SCOUNDREL DAYS. U.S. aside, they were still pretty darned massive in most countries around the world, so they were likely sleeping well at night nonetheless. 

After issuing STAY ON THESE ROADS and EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON in 1988 and 1990, respectively, a-ha took a bit of a breather in terms of releasing albums, although they put out a best-of collection in the UK and elsewhere that contained a new single: “Move to Memphis.” In the absence of the aforementioned best-of set on this side of the pond, the song was ultimately repurposed and added to the track listing of their next album, too.

Recorded predominantly at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios, MEMORIAL BEACH was a decidedly darker album than anything a-ha had released up to that point, although the material definitely felt like an organic evolution from the sound of their previous LP. For those who hadn’t been following a-ha’s shift, however, it was probably a tad surprising, if not outright jarring. Indeed, it would not be out of place to say that it was a-ha’s equivalent to ACHTUNG, BABY. This is a good thing, however, even if you can’t tell as much from the album’s chart placing in America. 

It didn’t chart at all, in case you’re wondering, although the single, “Dark is the Night for All,” did manage to bubble under the Hot 100 at #111. No, that’s not what you’d call a great showing, but it’s still better than they’d pulled off in the better part of a decade, so it’s something.

If you’ve ever been an a-ha fan, you owe it to yourself to at least give MEMORIAL BEACH a cursory spin. It’s the sound of a band that’s gotten tired of being featured in Star Hits and Teen Beat just because they’re cute and wants to focus on more mature music. It was damned good in ’93, and it’s only gotten better over time.

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