When A-ha Took a Left Turn With ‘Scoundrel Days’
By the mid-'80s, anyone who had tuned into MTV within the previous year was aware of A-ha via their iconic rotoscoped video for “Take on Me” from their 1985 debut Hunting High and Low. While that song and clip may have made them a household name, following it up with similar success would be a whole other thing. However, instead of going for a rerun, the Norwegian trio shifted direction with Scoundrel Days, the sophomore effort released on Oct. 6, 1986.
Barely cracking the Top 100 on the Billboard chart, Scoundrel Days came out while the band was on a whirlwind world tour, propelled by the boom of the “Take on Me.” For the most part though, the record would eschew the light and airy sounds of its predecessor in favor of a noticeably darker tint.
“The first thing you'd hear after Scoundrel Days [was], ‘There's no 'Take on Me' on this album,’” A-ha keyboardist Magne Furuholmen told the Daily Mail in 2009. “Of course there isn’t, we've done that. This is Scoundrel Days, this is a better album. This was our approach. Their approach was, ‘S---, they're really going down the tubes.'"
The driving “Manhattan Skyline” has singer Morten Harket luring in listeners while relaying what starts off as a standard farewell ballad, then it suddenly juts left with a menacing guitar riff courtesy of Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, turning it almost angry. It’s still a very pop -- and very '80s -- sounding record, but the undercurrent of gloom resonates throughout even the cheeriest bits of “The Swing of Things” and the title track opener, where Harket plays with a variety of singing styles -- channeling Peter Murphy at one point -- before delivering a soaring chorus.
“Cry Wolf,” arguably the most dated of the set, with its voiceover opening and repetitive synthesizer, was the biggest hit on American shores, but while the deviation in sound Scoundrel Days presented overall may have accelerated A-ha’s relegation into one-hit wonder status here, it wasn’t like that overseas -- quite the opposite, in fact. The record landed in the Top 10 in a number of countries, and not terribly unexpected, topped the charts in Norway.
The Best Albums of 1986