Scoundrel Days, by A-Ha
Suggested by Robb Sutherland
Scoundrel Days is A-Ha’s Difficult Second Album.
Their first, Hunting High and Low, was a critical and commercial success, netting them multiple international awards and eleven million album sales. Scoundrel Days is a marked departure from the band’s initial synth-pop sound, delving into more straight pop-rock territory. The public didn’t take to it quite as readily, and with a much more lacklustre six million in sales, it’s looked upon as a failure of sorts. Although it’s their biggest-selling album in Switzerland, bizarrely.
The Difficult Second Album phenomena, or the Sophomore Slump, is a recognised musical trope. Of the thousands of albums that fall into this particularly pernicious pit, two of the most notable are The Second Coming by The Stone Roses and Neither Fish Nor Flesh by Terence Trent D’Arby. Personally, the most disappointing is Mansun’s follow up to the fabulous Attack of the Grey Lantern, the meandering and nonsensical Six.
Scoundrel Days isn’t quite so reviled. Let’s face it, six million album sales is still very impressive. I’m happy when my reviews get six likes. And musically, it’s not such a massive leap from their synth-pop comfort zone. It’s just… not quite what I’m after.
The album starts strongly with the title track, Scoundrel Days. There’s a tenseness behind the tune, almost a sharp edge, and at first the inimitable Morten Harket’s vocal seems low and subdued. That ruse is soon dispelled as we reach the soaring chorus and polished finish. It’s the standout song on this album, but things aren’t all downhill from here. The Swing of Things is an elegant tune with a smart synth hook, Manhattan Skyline deftly splices harder rock with more subdued sections, and both of these are before we get to the album’s strongest chart single performance, the pleasantly punchy Cry Wolf.
And that’s the problem, I think. When the most memorable track is a dimly recalled A-Ha song you sort-of remember from back in the day, rather than one of the legitimate bangers from their first album, it’s easy to see why this release only just cleared half the units of it’s profitable predecessor. The slide from shiny pop-synth diamonds to a more considered and brooding rock-tinged approach did nothing but detract from their appeal.
I give Scoundrel Days a medium 6/10. Overall, the songs are nice enough, but if you’re searching for a hit, you’ll be hunting high and low before you find one.