A-ha: Hammersmith Odeon, London


SOME HAVE been surprised by the calibre of A-ha’s quality pop — because this group has been so readily consumed from the same trough as those sorry teenybop leaders the Durans and Spandaus. But A-ha never set out in those disgraceful tracks. As an anonymous Norwegian trio, they blended some of the effortless hooks of Eurobeat with their own kind of punchy middleweight rock. A lack of arrogance made them strong.

When they also turned out to be particularly good-looking, in the pale and hungry manner of Northern Europeans, A-ha trumped our own pretty boys. They had the cheekbones and the tunes.

On the first night of a Hammersmith residency, they worked cheerily through a catalogue that already gleams with hits.

From the mouths of many painted babes and infants came a Babylonian roar, but they might as well have been watching a band playing a club in Oslo: A-ha’s lack of pretension is unique in this league. They toiled in jeans and T-shirts, with a light show they could’ve accomplished with torches, and the minimum of gratification. They’ve played this set for eight solid months and it still sounds good to them.

In Morten Harket they have a star of grace and sweetness. Sometimes he strokes back his hair with a boyish cheek that the girls find irresistible. And he smiles, instead of smirking. Morten’s face has the shining blandness which makes his voice chime. He hums his way through A-ha’s songs — and the songs are the finest in this elevated, mass-appeal bracket. ‘The Sun Never Shines On TV’ and ‘Take On Me’ not only work as tingling pop opera, they gesture towards a tenderness that could only come from a place (Norway, that sombre country) where pop music is not quite the useless, overstuffed turkey it is here. Even their rock-out tunes, like the engaging ‘Cry Wolf, have a slimness and fizz that keeps the clichés alive.

Well, alright, it’s not all that good. A-ha are not going to trouble any resonating areas of the soul. Good songs line up with pretty dull ones, and after an hour their evenness begins to pall. They have the sense to wind it up not long after that. But in the course of this show they give the best value such a worshipped outfit can deliver. In ‘Hunting High And Low’, with its well-worn and lovely chords, they muster an anthem that destroys the likes of ‘Notorious’.

A-ha keep a modest promise. They must be a bright heart of pop music.

© Richard CookSounds, 3 January 1987

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