on April 20, 2000
I was just a teen when Take On Me hit the airwaves in the US. The song was/is like no other, as was the video. The ONLY bad thing about this album is that it's too short. If it had 30 songs on it, it would still be too short. It is just like a good book, never long enough.
All the songs on this cd are excellent, and my favorites are Living A Boys Adventure Tale, The Sun Always Shines On Tv and of course, Take On Me.
But if you live in the U.S., then you must think that Take On Me is the only song ever put out by this misunderstood and mislead band. Well I have learned that the radio is NOT the place to go to if you want to listen to good music.
a-ha's second (Scoundrel Days), and third (Stay On These Roads)albums are also excellent and the band sticks to their previous style and sound as in Hunting High and Low. They are both worthy additions to your library. But read on.
But if you want to understand what a mistake the U.S. has made with this band, Warner Bros. especially, then I would recommend you also pick up East of The Sun, West of the Moon and Memoral Beach. These two albums show just how mature the band has become. The songwriting is excellent and the sound is like none other. These albums are TOTALLY different from Hunting High and Low, but then again, why would you want the same thing? Early Morning on EOSWOM and Cold as Stone on Memorial Beach are two examples of this bands greatness. Both could be hits in the U.S. today, if they could just get a little radio airtime. Yeah, right. Most of what is on the radio today is TRASH! Record companies today are signing one album wonders instead of promoting AND supporting good musicians, which in the long run, is beneficial to both parties involved. Radio broadcasters have their songs preselected for them and don't dare play anything not on their list. What a shame and a sham.
Pick up Hunting High and Low, then pick up one of their most recent releases. Go into a quiet room, turn off the lights and simply listen to the albums 3 or 4 times. You won't be dissapointed.
on June 6, 2003
When I first heard "Take on me" back in the 80's when I was 11-12 years old, I thought it was a cool new sound defining the growing new wave movement. I bought the cassette a couple of years later expecting it to be "take on me" and filler, as no other singles had been played from it. I was amazed as track after track of fantastic music kept me soaring on a musical cloud. They were immediately my favorite band, and I listen to a ton of other stuff. I have played this tape and it's replacement over and over for years, awestruck every time. The beautiful strings and guitar ballad "Hunting high and low" is one of the best songs ever written, a real tear-jerker. I play this song as part of my own musical repertoire, a-ha kept me inspired to become a musician myself. The child-like "Living a boy's adventure tale", with the band's first use of clarinet is a masterpiece. The album includes vastly contrasted themes such as the dark and teen-spirited "Dream myself alive" and "Here I stand and face the rain", probably my favorite song on the album with it's ethereal synths and haunting acoustic guitar and mysterious lyrics. The whole album rocks, soothes you, and trips you out from one song to the next. Lots of changing sounds and textures. Very talented musicians. I would say they are one of the top 5 most skilled users of synths. Skilled because they don't sound like computer music but rather like a pop orchestra with the great singer, lyrics, guitar, cool rhythms, nothing is overshadowed. All of their other albums are good too, but I agree with other reviewers that after "Scoundrel Days", something was lost and the magic was not as strong as their first two albums. Their music became more organic, less youthful and dark, less colorful and changing. This album and really "Scoundrel Days" too, are must-haves for any music collection. I just wish they'd remaster them.
on October 10, 2015
REALLY well done!! Beautiful package & book with a lovely textured cover...some glossy, some not, as it should be...the photos are great, all lyrics are included, the details are stunning, incorporating the drawings from the "Take On Me" video and more, the essay is lovingly written, by a truly knowledgeable a-ha-phile. It's an interesting story, how they got together in the first place in Norway, how they forged a path for, not just them, but ALL Norwegian artists in general. The path leading to their signing is great as well, through their co-manager Terry Slater, who while at EMI, worked with Kate Bush, Queen and signed the Sex Pistols...with his first impression of our boys, he even compared how "street" they were to that of the Pistols...see, that confirms their credibility besides the music!!
This set is guaranteed to be the final word on "Hunting High & Low", and there is tons of material here that shaped their sound. CD1 is the album, lovingly remastered in 2015, sounds awesome and crisp, all 10 songs. CD2 is a treasure trove, 25 demos recorded between 1982 and 1984...many of them were on the 25th anniversary 2CD set from 2010, but that set wasn't complete and people complained about the missing demos...this bookbox has the missing pieces. Not only the early versions of the album's songs, which are really cool unto themselves, hearing how they first sounded before they evolved into the versions everyone knows, like the title track. I LOVE how it started out, the original melody and verses and the way the chorus worked in a more uptempo Euro-styled pop song, rather than the lovely final acoustic & strings final song. OR even "The Blue Sky", LOVE it's original state (both demos) before it was shaped, and over a minute longer. The other unreleased & dropped songs are amazing too, like "Presenting Lily Mars", the evocative "The Planes That Come In On The Quiet", the catchy Devo-esque "What's That You're Doing To Yourself In The Pouring Rain??", which is sorta like White Town's "Your Woman" or Taco's version of "Puttin' On The Ritz". It is a treasure trove indeed. CD3 is a collection of all the singles, 12 inches and B-sides. The original 1984 "Take On Me" is OK and interesting and it's easy to see why it flopped and only sold 300 copies. The charm is gone but nice to have to contrast the demo and 1985 versions. The B-side "Stop! And Make Your Mind Up" is also like Devo and is better than the 1984 "Take On Me" but easy to see why it didn't make the album. And the cool "Driftwood", the B-side of "The Sun Always Shines On TV" is a little lost gem that didn't fit the album either. I love all the 12" versions, and it's interesting that there were two "Extended Versions" of "The Sun", one from a first pressing, and a totally different and better, cooler & longer one on the 2nd pressing, remixed by Guns & Roses producers Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero. One thing I picked up, was a timing printing error, they mixed up the lengths of the 2nd 12" of "The Sun Always Shines On TV" and the "Instrumental" of it. The 12" is 8:25 and the "Instrumental" is 6:35, not the other way around as printed...I love the instrumental, which some would call a "dub" version, which just has an amazing musical bed of the 12", it's like a hybrid of beautiful melody, synthpop & hard rock. The killer 7" remix of "Train Of Thought" is improved over the album track, bringing the more melodic keyboard lines to the forefront and brighter drum & bass parts, and the 12" (US mix) is great, adding to the as-is fantastic song new percussive elements that work. The "dub" version is so-so and over 8 minutes, pretty cool they saved it from the now-rare Japanese 4-song "45 RPM Club" EP. I wouldn't go out of my way to seek this track out on its own though and put on repeat. Lastly are the 2 versions of "Hunting High & Low", which are just beautiful and prettier than the album track, replacing the keyboard lines with real strings and orchestration, or adding to it. The 12" version takes the ending parts and adds em to the beginning, making it over 2 minutes longer, without being repetitive, which I don't mind because of the beauty of the song, just spread it out more. No dance elements, just a longer version of a sublime song. CD4 is a real eye-opener because it's an earlier mix of the album, and much of it I love even more than the original album, with the dropped parts added back in, like the longer "Blue Sky" (with the Norwegian dialogue at the beginning and throughout, cool touch), the longer vocal & piano intro to "The Sun Always Shines On TV", the longer "Here I Stand & Face The Rain", the different & edgier vocal to "Train Of Thought", the louder drums on "Hunting High & Low", the different intro to "Living A Boy's Adventure Tale", which I consider the album's lost hit single, just beautiful, with the Pet Shop Boys-esque keyboards and melodies and lovely, slinky oboe lines. On top of all that, the beginning of Disc 4 has the unreleased "Video Version" of "Take On Me", which, if you recall, is the same as the album version and single, but the ending is totally different, with an instrumental keyboard bit instead of the song fading out, which is a nice touch, placed on a disc of an unreleased mix of the album, icing on the cake really...better that than the 1984 single. Disc 5 is the DVD of the album's videos. It would have been nice to have included Hi-Res DVD-Audio to this disc, as there was room and there were plans but were dropped?? But the animated menu is nice with the instrumental bed of the song "Hunting High & Low" playing. 6 videos are included (pristine crisp picture), and no breaks inbetween, which is nice because the first 3 follow a continuous storyline, the classic live action/animated "Take On Me" into (the fixed) "The Sun Always Shines On TV" into the live/animated "Train Of Thought"...I say "Sun" was fixed because on the "25" DVD, it uses the wrong musical bed, had horrible jumpcut editing AND the "going off the air" US national anthem at the end, complete with US flag, US landmarks and monumernts and rockets galore, you have to see how bad that was to believe it...they fixed it on this box, thank goodness. Anyhoo, after "Train Of Thought" comes the gorgeous "Hunting High & Low" clip, which has visual beauty matching the audio beauty, just stunning. Then comes the 1984 original vidclip of "Take On Me", which is OK, but a total bomb of a video to match the production. Easy to see why it flopped and needed a do-over, but fun to see in this context. If the label didn't agree to the do-over, life would be very different, this album would not have existed, and a-ha would have been a woulda-shoulda-coulda instead of one of the greatest, popular and important bands that ever existed. Lastly, is the 1985 "Take On Me" again, but an "alternate cut". I was like, hmmm, I watched it, to see if there was a new ending or something, but I didn't see much of a difference between the two...what's different about this 2nd clip?? Anyone?? I'm curious...
One last quibble, the pockets holding the discs are a little TOO tight, so you have to stick your forefinger or thumb over the edge, pulling them outward to take the discs out...otherwise, you risk scratching em...just a word of warning, but better tight than loose really.
All in all, what a set!! Totally worth the money, and great value too. And lastly, this album was just the beginning of a 30+ year career, which their new album "Cast In Steel" among their best yet, as good or even better than this classic debut record.
Anyone who bought the 2010 reissue of this, and might think that buying this 5-disc anniversary set is either too much or not worth it, I recommend ordering without a second thought. Visually, sonically, everything here is top notch. The package is presented in a glossy hardback book that comes with the 5 discs placed in pockets on cardboard pages. The layout of the book looks simple, but takes a look at the fine details to realize how lovingly assembled this item is altogether. All the tracks that appear on here are from the original tapes, including the demos (never knew until now there were so many!) and sound amazing, the sound is so crisp it's unbelievable. Best of all, are the original Tony Mansfield-produced tracks on disc 4 - some of these versions are better than those on the released album! As for the album itself, most of you reading this already know that it is one of the finest debuts, and most intelligent synth-pop LPs of the '80s, one that stood the taste of time a lot better than others of that era.
There's plenty of info on the story behind the album and group coming together, lyrics, and many, many photos of that era (full hair and tight pants galore!). For the audiophiles who may be wondering what happened with the 192kHz/24bit and 96kHz/24bit files, they'll be pleased to know that they are available ...but elsewhere! Check HDtracks for them, and feel free to be annoyed that these are not included on here as was originally intended (a missed opportunity, especially when there is so much space left on the 5th disc which only features 6 videos). Still, this package is a hit, both the content and packaging do justice to the "30th anniversary super deluxe edition" title. Which only makes the anticipation for the next 2 a-ha reissues grow stronger. With so many pristine repackages (ie. recent Belinda Carlisle, and Bananarama singles box sets), it's refreshing to finally see record labels putting this amount of effort into producing such well-presented sets. Physical media is not dead. And a-ha are not either!