The a-ha frontman’s fifth solo LP paints him as a maestro of melancholy.
Nick Levine 2012-05-11
In October 2009, a-ha called time with a dignity lacking in most disbanding pop combos. There were no public rebukes or backstage fisticuffs, just an acknowledgement that it was "time to move on" and the promise of farewell tour. Fourteen months later, having played 73 shows from Rio to Oslo, they stayed true to their word.
There's a similar dignity to Morten Harket's first solo album since the split. It's a grown-up synth-pop affair featuring songs that vary in pace all the way from a fairly slow mid-tempo to, ooh, a fairly fast mid-tempo. Actually, Out of My Hands doesn't sound too different from the last few a-ha albums, but it's also fresh enough to recall Echoes, Will Young's stellar electro-pop LP from last year.
Harket's clearly operating within his comfort zone, which sometimes leads to blandness; even his impeccable vocal performances can't save the glib platitudes of I'm the One or Lightning's banal chorus. It could also explain the occasional lapse of judgement.
When I Reach the Moon begins with jagged guitar riffs that clash with the prevailing musical sweetness. The anti-capitalist sentiments of Burn Money Burn are both cripplingly vague and a bit rich: fans can buy Morten Harket tote bags and "chunky mugs" from the singer's official website. And Just Believe It features what sounds suspiciously like a dubstep breakdown. Harket, a preposterously well-preserved man of 52, gets away with this ‘down with the kids’ moment, but only just.
In typical Scandinavian fashion, the album's best moments are its gloomiest. Keep the Sun Away is a noble mope of a pop song, almost like middle-aged emo, while Quiet drips with romantic longing and a sense of what might have been.
Best of all is Listening, a stately ballad written by the Pet Shop Boys on which Harket addresses a reticent lover. "I know your tastes in food and wine, but not what's really on your mind," he sings dolefully. Of course, that's pretty classic Tennant-Lowe songwriting. It's also a perfect fit for Morten Harket, still a maestro of melancholy.