A-ha, like most people know, is the top best-selling Norwegian musical act ever, having sold in excess of 80 million albums worldwide. Although being mostly well known for catchy singles like Touchy, melody-driven songs like The Blood that Moves the Body, happy spicy sugar flicks like Take on me or romantic-nostalgia hits like Stay on these roads, Memorial Beach, their fifth album, released in 1993, despite little commercial success, deserves its place in history.
Memorial Beach is unique in a wide variety of ways, but – most of all – have the distinction of revealing the darkest side of an otherwise happy, flavored and colorful band. With extremely dramatic songs, filled with gloom, melancholy and sadness, wrapped up in an intense darkness, surrounded by depressing atmospheres, Memorial Beach does reveal a side of A-ha that you will never see in anyone of the band’s other albums.
Considered a commercial failure – having sold at the time of its release only 40.000 units in the United States –, maybe because their usual fan-base was incapable of understanding the low mood of the album, and, unlike their other albums, didn’t produced any single, this is a great album not only for its amazing, downward and abysmal descending songs, but for being completely distinct from anything the band has released, before and after it. The cold reception the album had upon its release is frequently cited as one of the reasons A-ha disbanded, soon afterwards.
I had the opportunity of seeing A-ha live, back in 2002, when they were touring to promote their most recent album, Lifelines. At the concert, however, they haven’t played any songs from Memorial Beach. Considered by music critics and fans alike – and apparently, by the band itself – the black sheep of A-ha discography, nevertheless this is a great album, and once you had the chance to listen to it, probably you will never stop listening. The greatest songs, undoubtedly, Move to Memphis, Cold as Stone, Locust, Lie Down in Darkness and Lamb to the Slaughter, are certainly, each one of them, a unique masterpiece in its own right. Memorial Beach is A-ha at their best – and darkest – shape, being for the first time in their careers, black, pessimistic to the bones, and blatantly non-commercial.
This is a major album for all the great reasons. When a band, deliberately or not, decides to do something out of their comfort zone, the result will be either an astonishing masterpiece, or an irreversible failure. Seen as a failure from a commercial point of view, from the artistic one, this album is starting to be seen as a turning point in the band’s career, that accidentally produced one of the best – and most ingloriously dark – masterpieces of the pop/ soft rock genre in music history, that remains somewhat neglected and under-appreciated to this day. A masterpiece not only close to perfection, but a very intriguing work of art, that they would hardly be able to duplicate, even if they try.