No one would have blamed a-ha for failing to try too hard on their second album, Scoundrel Days. The colossal momentum created by that first hit, the ubiquitous Take On Me, could have allowed the group to coast for a couple of years with the teen fanbase they had secured, in part, on the photogenic appeal of its three bandmates.
Listen to ‘Scoundrel Days’ here.
What most would appreciate in time – and the more astute got straight away – was that the trio had a musical drive far sharper than their chiselled cheekbones, and it elevated even their earliest material above standard pop fare. Scoundrel Days’ lead single, I’ve Been Losing You, made that statement from the off, with its brooding rock edge startling observers on its September 1986 release. It had been recorded a few months earlier, in snatched sessions in Australia, and was the last song to be added to the album; the pace needed to be frenetic, as a-ha’s first album, the classic Hunting High And Low, exploded across the planet, with the predictable demands for a global tour coming soon after.
Destined to be darker
Luckily the band’s stop-start genesis had allowed them to build up a strong arsenal of songs, some dating back to 1984, that could be reshaped for Scoundrel Days, which was always designed to be darker than what had gone before. Many have labelled this the genius of a-ha: an ability to drench a perky pop riff in something keyboardist Magne Furuholmen describes as “epic melancholia”. Tracks such as Manhattan Skyline (a surprising choice for a single in 1987) demonstrate this bold positioning, and guitarist Paul Waaktar-Savoy cites this as a personal favourite from the ten-song album, along with its equally atmospheric title track.