Reviews

a-ha / Cast in Steel: Track by track

castinsteel

a-ha‘s tenth studio album, Cast in Steel, is released today. SDE has been listening to it for the last two weeks thanks to a special preview and returns a track-by-track verdict below.

Cast in Steel

The album’s title track is a mid-paced number written solely by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. It’s a very strong, melodic opener with strings, acoustic guitars and some wonderful chord changes, particularly when Morten sings “forget how everything fades away” at the end of the first verse. A great chorus: “I’ll never get over what we said, it lingers in my head / I’ll always remember what we knew, 100 percent to be true / to be right, to be real, set in stone and cast in steel”. It’s a fine start to the album, with the usual excellent Waaktaar-Savoy lyrics. 4/5

Under The Makeup

What is effectively the first ‘single’ (digital only) is already starting to sound like a rock-solid a-ha classic. Effortless melody, dramatic windswept strings, brilliant chorus. A fine, fine song. You just wish this could be released in the era where this kind of single would storm into the UK top ten singles chart. Sigh. This is again composed by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. 5/5 



The Wake

Track three is very much a Morten song. He composed the music with Peter Kvint (the two of them also produce) and co-wrote the words with Ole Sverre Olsen. Someone has been listening to Depeche Mode‘s Violator (not exactly a bad thing…) because the opening is very reminiscent of sound elements on that 1990 album. Another song about a troubled relationship with another flowing chorus that gets stuck in your head “Baby this is a wake, you and I will not escape, as time goes by / The world’s never been older, your head on my shoulders, so close your eyes.”. The Wake has a satisfying pulsating backing track punctuated by some great bits of riffing guitar.  4/5

Forest Fire

The ‘Take on Me’ synths come out for the first time on the intro to Forest Fire. After a great intro and strong-ish verse (Morten sings the word ‘matter’ in a very Morten-esque way) the chorus ends up being the weakest part of this song. It’s not bad, but Harket pitches it quite high which is slightly wearing and the melody can’t match the first three tracks. Steve Osbourne, Mags and Erik Ljunggren produce Forest Fire which has four writers including Morten and Mags. Paul clearly had little involvement and it shows. 3/5.



Objects in the Mirror

Magne Furuholmen wrote this one by himself. Someone clearly forget to tell him that there is already a song called Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are (the Meatloaf track from ’94) because that line is repeated almost exactly here (or maybe he doesn’t care). Again, the verses are more interesting than the chorus which is a bit predictable. Five tracks in and you are starting to wish they’d give the strings a bit of a rest. 3/5

Door Ajar

The first track which features a-ha’s old mucker, Alan Tarney, on co-production duties is a big disappointment. After a couple of middling songs I was hoping that Door Ajar, written by Paul, would be as good as Cast in Steel and Under The Makeup, but this is far from the case. It’s a horrible title and the song has a rather rambling, aimless structure. I’ll go further, Door Ajar is actually quite boring. A bad day at the office for Mr Waaktaar-Savoy. 2/5

Living at the End of the World

Think ‘Stay on These Roads’. Living at the End of the World has that kind of vibe – a slow ballad with a stirring chorus. Having said that it doesn’t move me the way Stay On These Roads does, because lyrically it’s not as strong as that 1988 top five hit. This is another Morten-heavy track with the same writing/production team as The Wake. 3/5.

Mythomania

Mags makes up for Objects in the Mirror with this fantastic song which again references the sonic pallet of Violator. It’s all beats and synths and the better for it. It’s arguably a bit plodding on the verses but the chorus is superb, even if you do find yourself wondering what words Mags has come up with next to rhyme with ‘Mythomania’! On reflection, perhaps a great production more than a truly great song, but nevertheless Mythomania gets Cast in Steel back on track. 4/5.

She’s Humming A Tune

This has been left off the vinyl version of Cast in Steel, which is scandalous because it’s much, much better than Door Ajar. It’s has a quirky, scratchy acoustic guitar intro and the pacey pop of She’s Humming A Tune is enhanced by some great music and analogue-sounding synths. And no strings for a change. Superior pop music. This is written by Paul and like Cast in Steel and Under The Makeup is co-produced with Erik Ljunggren. 4/5

Shadow Endeavours

Oh dear. Alan Tarney should have really stayed at home because another track on Cast in Steel with him co-producing is another turkey, I’m afraid. Actually, I’ll qualify that. Shadow Endeavours is awful up until 2.50 when the last one and a half minutes are amazing. This is written by Paul and it’s as if he has fused two songs together, when he should have dumped the first one and concentrated on the second. “Shadow Endeavours” is also the worst title for a song since, well since Door Ajar. 1/5 for the beginning. 4/5 for the end.

Giving Up The Ghost

Giving Up The Ghost is another Mags song. He produced it with Erik Ljunggren and like Mythomania it’s a great sounding track. It has a pleasing darkness to it, both in terms of the lyrics and the music. This is the second song from the album omitted from the vinyl, but for me it’s better than Shadow Endeavours and Mags’ own Objects in the Mirror so that decision is a poor one.  3.5/5

Goodbye Thompson

a-ha have a solid record at ending albums with broody and quirky tracks. Here I Stand and Face the Rain (Hunting High and Low), Soft Rains of April (Scoundrel Days), and in particular (Seemingly) Non-stop July (East of the Sun West of the Moon) and Memorial Beach (Memorial Beach). Goodbye Thompson is definitely quirky and hints at something sad and mysterious but it’s not really as moving or emotionally engaging as those other songs listed. This is at least the best of the three track written by Paul and co-produced with Alan Tarney. 3/5.

Summary

The world is a better place when a-ha are releasing albums and Cast in Steel – in places – shows that the group can still cut the pop mustard when they put their minds to it. The start of the album suggests that Paul has hit a rich vein of form and that the listener is in for something very special, but ultimately Waaktaar-Savoy can’t maintain the really high quality throughout, and Door Ajar and Shadow Endeavours are weak by his usual standards. Mags and Morten both contribute a really great track apiece (The Wake, Mythomania) and Living at the End of the World (Morten) and Giving Up The Ghost (Mags) are solid pop. 

The band have been guilty in the past of some rambling, over long albums (the 15-track Lifelines is the main culprit) and Cast in Steel would benefit from losing a couple of songs, to make it leaner and frankly, better. Ironically, they’ve done just that for the vinyl edition but in my opinion they have removed the wrong tracks. Over the years, Mags and Morten’s songwriting contributions have grown and no doubt ‘band politics’ come in to play when deciding what to include and what not to include on an album. Are either of the three members able to put ego (and thoughts of publishing) to one side and say ‘let’s leave my track off, because yours is better”?

Also, let’s consider that a lack of physical singles might mean that what in the past, may have been considered for a B-side now gets ‘upgraded’ to fully-fledged album track.

The standout song is Under The Makeup –  that will undoubtedly appear on future compilations and future set-lists and hold its own with no problem at all. But while it’s much more than a one-trick pony, at least a third of Cast in Steel suffers from being rather predictable and doesn’t generate that spark that fires up really engaging pop music. Or to flip that around and finish on a positive note, Cast in Steel is two thirds a fine pop album.

Overall rating 3/5.

a-ha / Cast in Steel fanbox

Fanbox

2CD

Vinyl

Standard CD


Track listing

CD

01. Cast In Steel
02. Under The Makeup
03. The Wake
04. Forest Fire
05. Objects In The Mirror
06. Door Ajar
07. Living At The End Of The World
08. Mythomania
09. She’s Humming A Tune
10. Shadow Endeavors
11. Giving Up The Ghost
12. Goodbye Thompson

CD 2 (deluxe edition only)

01. The End Of The Affair
02. Mother Nature Goes To Heaven (Original Version)
03. Nothing Is Keeping You Here (Original Version)
04. Shadowside (Demo Version)
05. Start The Simulator (Stereophonic Mix)
06. Foot Of The Mountain (Mark Saunders Remix)

Vinyl Album

Side A:

Cast In Steel
Under The Makeup
The Wake
Forest Fire
Objects In The Mirror

Side B:

Door Ajar
Living At The End Of The World
Mythomania
Shadow Endeavors
Goodbye Thompson

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63 responses to a-ha / Cast in Steel: Track by track

  1. Andyboy says:

    Good review Paul, like many a-ha albums, it’s a grower
    And when they’ve grown on you – you play them regularly for years
    always going back to them.
    It’s a really good album, glad a-ha are back again
    A-ha are very synth based again in last couple of albums.
    I hope if there’s every another album…
    (with a-ha you can never rule this out) I hope they do another traditional band sound with guitars, bass, drums etc like East Of The Sun & Memorial Beach…remind the world they are excellent musicians on top of the great song writers.

  2. Andrea says:

    “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are” is actually a line used as a warning in….rear view mirrors! It’s usually written on a sticker upon the mirror itself….
    So I don’t think there’s any relationship with the Meatloaf song.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yes I know that. The point I was making is that there is already a songwriter (Jim Steinman) who wrote a song based on the same idea. Not a crime of course, and if the a-ha song was brilliant it would be almost entirely irrelevant. It’s quite a specific title, hardly ‘The Power of Love’, for instance.

    • Eduardo Fernandes says:

      I really liked your review! I agree with almost everything you wrote.

      For me, the most “strange” song was “Shadow Endeavors”, but the end of it incredible. It conquered me somehow.

      Cast in Steel is my favorite song.

  3. Don says:

    Thanks for the review. I haven’t heard the whole album yet but my impression is similar to yours based on the previews I’ve heard.

  4. Chris Hopkins says:

    Completely and utterly disagree with you on almost every line, I’m sorry to say.
    All of Paul Waaktaar- Savoy’s songs on this album are indisputable genius. Door Ajar is a work of art, period.
    I knew something was up with your ears as soon as I saw you give the title track 4/5 and “Makeup” 5/5. Clearly, Cast In Steel wins that fight by a mile.
    Oh well. Seems we all expect different things from this band.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Ha! We’ll have to agree to disagree :) Some of Paul’s songs are great… For me “Makeup” is better than the title track. It just has that effortless simplicity and a much better chorus.

    • anglomatt@hotmail.com says:

      Totally agree with you, Chris. Door Ajar is classic Paul. It’s one of the best on the album by a long way, in fact. The chorus is Waaktaar-Savoy gold. I think there are many a-ha fans who see them as a pop machine, but when it comes to the ones with extra depth, they completely miss the point.

  5. Gareth says:

    The Depeche Mode comparison is very apt. The David Gahan songs on the recent DM albums are written and performed with people from outside of DM. Morten seems to be doing the same here.

    I think Paul’s review is about right. The first 2 songs are the clear highlight for me. The rest is good but not great. The sounds and the vocals are strong but the songs are less so. ‘Foot of The Mountain’ impressed me more at this stage, particularly side 2 (assuming sides still exist).

  6. Michel D. says:

    Can’t wait to hear the whole album.
    Why does every amazon sites are showing the fanbox with the lanyard when this particular item is only available at amazon Germany, or is it now in every fanbox world wide??

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Probably because no one bothered to create a new image for the non-German ones! As far as I know the Lanyard isn’t included outside Germany.

  7. Paul Edwards says:

    A ha like Duran suffer these days from the need to release longer albums to fill a CD. 9 or 10 tracks is fine but once they try and stretch it you end up with b side material creeping in

  8. Daniel says:

    For me the new album is better than I thought.
    But don’t have the magic of the first 3 albums.
    Only “Living At The End Of The World” moves my heart.
    The “Deluxe Edition” makes no sense for me.
    A “Deluxe Edition” should include remixes / alternate mixes / demos
    from the album and not material from an older album.
    4-5 tracks could have an Extended Version on Disc # 2. Along with
    demo’s or exclusive material from the working period.
    I wait now for the “Deluxe Edition” of “Stay On The Roads” !!

  9. William says:

    Picked up the fanbox today and whilst I am happy with music I find the actual box wasteful and a storage headache, for what you get in the box it could easily have been slimmed down substantially

  10. John says:

    Door Ajar is a great and interesting song but otherwise I agree with most of your review. Magne’s songs except Mythomania appear a bit rushed. I frankly expected more from Paul both in terms of sound and songs though I love UTMU. Cast in Steel is a terrific song but also too sweet and conventional arranged.
    Morten’s contributions are unusually good and well suited for a-ha.
    The album owes a lot to his voice, with a different vocalist quite a few of the songs would fall flat. How can he sound this good at 55? Cast in Steel confirms his position as one of the greatest pop vocalists ever.

  11. John says:

    Well, I’ve only listened to it once but I really, really enjoyed it. I’m always apprehensive when a band gets back together after a hiatus, but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. The title track and “Under The Makeup” are the obvious standout tracks. I wasn’t crazy about the opening of “Door Ajar” but the song is fine overall. The only “demerit” I’ll issue is for “Giving Up The Ghost” – the song itself is fine, but that’s a tired, worn-out cliche that I just can’t stand. Way, way too many songs out there with that title. I hate that almost as much as I hate “Going through the motions.”

  12. John says:

    Compared to Foot Of The Mountain this one is a bit of a letdown. No upbeat dance songs or rockier songs. Each song has the same kind of flow. The first three tracks are the best. The rest sort of just flow along. I am a huge fan but after waiting so long this is just kind of disappointing. Still it’s much better then Morten’s last solo CD.

  13. Nigel d day says:

    I hope this a grower because first impressions aren’t good. How many times have they written Forest Fire ? And I agree with Paul about Door Ajar. A lousy song with a lousy title. I’ll bear with it but I’m not feeling it at the moment. Terrible cover as well.

  14. Justin Isbell says:

    I see the 2 disc deluxe edition is currently available on Amazon UK for £10 while the 1 disc version is £9.99. I ordered my 2-disc version a few days ago when it was £12.99…let’s hope they charge me the new £10 price.

  15. TheProgster says:

    The single sounds ok but I have heard the rest and to be honest it all sounds the same to me not enough light and shade and Mortens vocals start to become very straining to listen to…the material isn’t as strong as the earlier stuff.

  16. Nick says:

    I was surprised by the review and some of the comments here as my impression of the album so far is that it really works and features great songs. Although the band have worked apart, it does sound cohesive. The first two tracks do sound amazing but this is also because I have already played them so often before getting the album. I do agree that their albums take a few spins before really realising what you have. Under the makeup has already become one of a-ha’s best singles for me.

    I agree with Chris that Paul has put in gold on this album. Having said that the other contributions are great too and Morten’s songs somehow seem more a-ha this time.

    I am a lifetime fan of a-ha’s music but can admit where they have failed occasionally. I don’t think they have on this recording. The only issues I noticed are the fact that disc 2 is mostly Foot of the mountain material which I am thankful for but do find odd. Also I wish the artwork was better. The Just Loomis photograph is nice and the use of the original band logo but the design just doesn’t work in the booklet. The type is barely legible and is not at all nice. I have been a graphic designer for almost 20 years and would not have got this printed.

  17. Craig Hedges says:

    Well take me out and shoot me – I really like ‘Door Ajar’ I love songs with key changes! the start reminds me of ‘The Blue Sky’
    My problem with the album is it’s not a-ha it’s either Morten on a Pal song or Morten on Magne song, or a Morten song which could’ve been of his solo album. I’m guessing that all three of them weren’t in a studio at the same time at any point of the making of this album – so why did they come back??? It’s not the ‘classic’ album they made out it was in press conference.
    One final point, and this relates to Duran and Depeche as well, when they tour they will have a live drummer so why are they making there albums with beats, loops and drum samples

    Did Morten just sing Nymphomania???? Yes I’ve just put that your head!

    • Craig Hedges says:

      Paul – Just after submitting my comments I found this article which answer my question as to why they got back together,

      http://www.aftenposten.no/amagasinet/a-ha-The-rescue-operation-8142042.html

      Pal reveals as well that they weren’t in the studio at the same time. I really don’t know what to think about some of his other comments, it leaves me feeling sad as I’d hoped they’d have rekindled their friendships but the reunion is just a business arrangement.

      I really like the demos of the Foot of the mountain tracks which in my opinion are better than the ones release (Pal comments also make sense as to why these have been released)

      • Daran says:

        That’s a great read. Thanks for posting that link. Pal and Morten recorded together, so it could have been worse if all three were separate. They are all very creative people, so if anyone can pull it together they can. But after so many years and with families etc it’s no surprise that a true band does not exists anymore now they are middle aged men.

  18. Emmanuel says:

    Strangely enough, I agree on almost everything with you, except for the Alan Tarney produced tracks, that I find really exciting and fresh – a-ha never sounded like that before. Also, I don’t think Paul could have extended that much the coda of ‘Shadow Endeavors’, as it is actually a fragment taken from the demo of ‘Scoundrel Days’ demo (first track on the disc 2 of the 2010 reissue). And I love the juxtaposition anyway.
    It has to be said that, maybe for the first time, Paul and Magne are at the same level in terms of songwriting (Morten still behind).
    And I hope we will get to hear the other tracks recorded but not released this time, ‘Open Face’, ‘Digital River’, ‘Hold Me’, ‘Did I Leave You Behind?’, etc.

  19. Emmanuel says:

    Just for fun, and with the same restriction (and because I think too that the album is too long even if I would love the hear the 5-6 other songs mentionned by Paul in the interview posted by Craig above), I have made my own “vinyl” version. “The Wake” and “Forest Fire” don’t do anything to me, and the sequencing somehow make no sense, but the remaining songs are so good that it is their best album this way as far as I am concerned.

    Side 1 (traditionnal-sounding a-ha)
    Cast in Steel
    Living at the end of the world
    Under the Makeup
    She’s humming a tune
    Objects in the mirror

    Side 2 (more heavily electronic – and I truly love the drum programmings in all these tracks)
    Door Ajar
    Mythomania
    Shadow Endeavors
    Giving up the ghost
    Goodbue Thompson

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Interesting idea…. although I would never leave “The Wake” from the album :)

    • John says:

      Leaving out “The Wake” would make Cast in Steel a lesser album. Objects in the Mirror is a far more pedestrian song underneath the arrangements.

    • Daran says:

      I often skip tracks when I convert a CD to mp3. U2′ s NLOTH an example – missed off the dreadful Get On Yer Boots. Songs that have ruined or lessened the album they were on, now that is a topic in itself! Some albums given a haircut would be much better (maybe even classics), and I think Coldplay said that about X&Y. Too true.

  20. Pete {in Australia} says:

    THANKS Paul, for the review. Getting excited, as received an email to say my copy has been dispatched and on it’s way to me, but guess will have to wait another week or so. Sadly only available in Australia, at this stage, via download, so just listening to snippets on ITunes, as i type this. Will await until i get the physical cd, before making a full judgement, but overall like what I am hearing, except for “Door AJar”………….it sounds very lazy!

  21. Paul Edwards says:

    Superb article posted above about the band- quite sad though that you get the impression none of them like each other anymore!

  22. AnonyMousE says:

    I would like some news about SOTR reissue, tho’…

  23. Mark Jobson says:

    The band do like each other… in fact they just recently had lunch together, just the three of them, for the first time in 20 years! But they have a very complicated relationship, first of all they are Norwegian and anyone who has spent any time around Norwegians knows they can be a stubborn bunch at the best of times! And all three of them are highly creative, opinionated people, I think their music speaks to that. I think the friction and tension within the band has produced some of their best songs, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. Anyone interested in the real story behind the band should check out the book ‘a-ha The Swing of Things’, especially the original hardback version from 2004, a fascinating read.

  24. Sven says:

    I think there are at least two songs that should have been skipped: Forest Fire (complete rubbish) and The Wake. Some other songs are a bit strange but might be interesting growers, like Mythomania or Door Ajar.

    For me, the best songs so far are Under the make-up, She’s humming a tune and Goodby Thomson (where I like the guitars). Also Giving upthe ghost sound good. I must however admit that I try to boycot the title track as I want to be surprised by an unknown track on tour.

    Overall, I do not like Morten’s voice when he sings too high, as well as all this underlying synth stuff and programming. I wish they would tour without any additional keyboards and notebooks etc – just a piano, two guitars, bass, drums and Morten’s voice. Less ins more!

    Finally, I completely agree with Emmanuel. They should have put She’s humming a tuine and Giving up the ghosts on the vinyl issue instead of Forest Fire and The Wake.

  25. colin says:

    Am I right in thinking the ‘Fanbox’ version ETA is 17th Sept as it is classed as an import (i.e. actually shipping from Sweden or Elsewhere NOT UK)? Had I known this I may have ordered the standard deluxe version and not the ‘Fanbox’. Cheers.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yes, very interesting. John Ratcliff refuses to give back possessions that he knows don’t belong to him without payment… Seems very bitter.

  26. Andres Quiroga says:

    “Cast in Steel” is a-ha’s best album since “East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon”. They’re back in top form and I would also dare to say that they sound better than ever. Every single track catches your attention right away. Among my favorite songs are the exquisite “Cast in Steel”, the dramatic “Under The Makeup” and the haunting “She’s Humming A Tune”. My overall score for this magnificent effort is a much deserved 9 out of 10. If you like a-ha, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

    • anglomatt@hotmail.com says:

      Yes – that is exactly my feeling about this album, Andres. It is definitely the best since EOTS. It fits together extremely well and reflects a band full of maturity and confidence in their ability. So much better than Foot of the Mountain. I’m pretty shocked, as I was expecting to be disappointed – again. Not this time.

      • Andres says:

        It’s comforting to read that somebody out there share my thoughts and views about a-ha’s latest effort. One thing I forgot to mention in my review was how perfectly connected is “Cast in Steel” with “Stay On These Roads”. The musical landscape they both share in terms of lyrics and atmospheres make them feel like some sort of continuity. In fact, “Cast in Steel” could have been the extraordinary closing of the perfect pop quadrilogy initiated by “Hunting High And Low”, followed by the superb “Scoundrel Days” and later extended by the melancholic “Stay On These Roads”. It took them more than 25 years to close the circle, but the long wait proved to be more than worthy. Thanks for taking the time to read this, anglomatt, and hope to hear more from you in the future.

  27. Good and very fair review. I couldn’t agree more regarding the weakest tracks: “Door Ajar” is quite dull, and, for me, “Shadow Endeavours” never should’ve seen the light of day. I seem to be a bigger fan of “Goodbye Thompson” than you, though. My favourites: “Under The Makeup”, “Forest Fire”, “Mythomania”, and “Goodbye Thompson”.

  28. MunroeL says:

    I’ve been listening to Cast In Steel for the last few days, and to be honest, I’m beginning to love it, after something of a shaky start. This is always a good sign for me, since albums I love ‘instantly’ are never being played 6 months later, while ones I have to work on are the truly great ones.

    What has interested me about Cast In Steel is the complete lack of agreement on it’s best songs by A-ha fans. I think the reason for this has been hinted at over the course of this thread.

    At the moment, I love Shadow Endeavors, a song which seems to have been universally derided by A-ha fans… but I think it has the hint of menace which A-ha songs used to deliver in spades – the ‘Scoundrel Days’ coda really hit me and the echo from 1986 brought a tear to my eye.

    Here lies the rub tho – because they wrote/recorded everything without meeting, the album is not a unified piece of music. It has every element of the many different songwriting skills the three members have developed over the a-ha 2.0 era.

    This means you hear ‘Classic Singles A-ha’ on Cast In Steel and Forest Fire, You hear ‘A-ha (Paul) with a touch of menace’ in the shape of ‘Shadow Endeavors’ and ‘Door Ajar’, you can here trademark ‘out of of the box’ Magne songwriting (Mythomania) and, of course, Morten’s songwriting which to me stands out a mile (The Wake).

    As someone who is familiar with all the A-ha solo projects, I feel that the production of the album and Morten’s excellent vocals hold the album together very well considering they never got together as a trio at any point during the recording process.

    So… the question is, which version of A-ha floats your boat? The differing styles make this album a difficult one to get into, but I’m beginning to enjoy all of it, there are some really great tracks which are influenced by all three band members separately (Objects In The Rear View Mirror/Living at the end of the World/She’s Humming A Tune’).

    There is a lot to be enjoyed here, ‘Cast In Steel’ is as good as we could hope to expect, even the extra track on the deluxe edition, ‘The End Of The Affair” is worth the extra money for CD2.

    My advice: Play it Loud , tell your friends and enjoy the band being back!

    • Andrew p says:

      Very good review agreed with it completely until a week later when I can’t stop playing the album start to finish with no skipping , love the album for me this is the best album since the nighties , and only 2 3rds of analogue coming close to this out of the A-ha mark 2 albums, really hope this does well and pushes the band to just keep going no real reason not to since they Are able to make a class album like this without even being in the same room , great stuff long live a-ha

  29. Emmanuel says:

    I agree with MunroeL on absolutely everything. What is more, ‘Shadow Endeavors’ has been my favourite since the first listening.

  30. anthony says:

    I also have to agree with all of Paul reviews. Having been an aha fan since the beginning I was really hoping for more. At least if there were 3 great songs on the album than that would make up for the rest of the album. I have to say the Foot of the Mountain was a far stronger album.

  31. Anonymou5 says:

    Funny, I disliked Under The Makeup a lot, and I think that Door Ajar is one of the best tracks on the album. Uncomplicated, unlike Under The Makeup, that tries to make up for lacking content with cheesy string arrangements.

  32. Christian says:

    A new a-ha “album” is always cause for celebration and remembrance. Just listening to this for the first time and here’s my real-time opines:

    Cast In Steel – Lots of nice instrumentation that doesn’t gel into a memorable melody, which for me is a-ha’s strength, as I think Paul Waaktar is a genius of hooks (as his Savoy output proved), with Mags no slouch himself. My biggest complaint with a-ha has always been that right when they should become great in songs they take the easy way out.

    Under The Makeup – A very cool and moody song that I may not listen to as much as some like.

    The Wake – Really like this one and it’s catchy throbbing sound.

    Forest Fire – Very forgettable and non-descript to me.

    Objects in the Mirror – Nice chorus and melancholy.

    Door Ajar – Hmmm… I really like this and the chorus.

    Living at the End of the World – Great a-ha title. I’m a sucker for their anthems. This song doesn’t quite get there in terms of scope and melody but it will be a good driving song.

    Mythomania – Just okay.

    She’s Humming A Tune – Lovely ambiance and melody right off the bat. Great synths.

    Shadow Endeavours – I like things in this but not the dark epic it should be.

    Giving Up The Ghost – I like the dark tone but not a strong song.

    Goodbye Thompson – I too always love good last tracks but this one doesn’t connect much.

    My initial impression is that the tracks lack focus and their best work comes from a cohesive style or sound like Scoundrel Days, etc. But I’ll keep listening as I always do…

  33. Francesca says:

    I agree with almost everything in your review. I have been listening to the album for a few days now. I think overall it’s a good album but, as you said, several songs are rather predictable and don’t give me anything, and I am getting a bit weary of Morten’s high pitch voice and especially the synth sounds. I think Morten’s voice is truly truly great, but the 80’s and 90’s ish sounds (like in Forest Fire) get me pretty annoyed.

    I really love the first three songs, I love the extensive use of strings and back orchestra, feels to me like a more”mature” style, more intimate, more like Morten’s solo work (which by the way I like more than a-ha).
    And then I also like Giving up the ghosts, I like the tunes and the melody.

    The only thing I disagree with you on is Living at the end of the world, because I think the lyrics are much more meaningful than in Stay on these roads.

    For most of the other songs, unfortunately, nothing new.

    Overall I think that the album is more cohesive than I would expect giving that they didn’t record and worked on songs together. But still, knowing that the three of them worked separately but as a-ha makes me a bit sad, seems like a “forced” reunion – which probably simply is – and I just have troubles in calling this a truly a-ha album.

  34. Bard says:

    Without doubt Cast Of Steel , the title track is the strongest song on this album (a potential top 10 hit) together with Under The Makeup. Let’s face it , Paul is the reason why A-ha made it big with his brilliant songwriting. But I’m happy the boys are happy and back together , maybe for a few years.

    • John says:

      Bard you’re right, Paul is a brilliant songwriter and essential to the a-ha sound but without Morten as voice and front figure Paul had never made it, probably not even in Norway.

  35. Mark says:

    I utterly take issue with the “Lifelines” moan. Bull! That was their most classic album for me-the soppy boppy kiddies party nonsense of old pap like ‘Dream Myself Alive’, ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Love Is Reason’ etc. (and people love that international first album-where for the only time the best things on it were the singles!) was utterly gone represented by a new gorwn up set of songs that were dark, joyful, mature and masterfully produced. I’ve always loved the way the best people like Kim Wilde, Duran and such can mix dark material with adult pop/rock in an utterly accessible way, and A-had have begun to do that more since their wonderful comeback. For me the main 5 star albums started with their 1990 one, then when they came back 10 years after that, followed it up with “Lifelines” in 2002 and finally “Foot Of The Mountain”. In other words A-ha were good but nowhere near as good as people are banging on about in the 80s, which is insulting anyway, acting like they can’t go on beyond it. “Lifelines” has 15 tracks and so it should-rather that-especially when everyone is a winner than just a 10 track record where some of the cuts struggle (i.e “Memorial Beach” and those two 80s A-ha albums aside from 2Scoundral Days” which also itself is unbalanced somewhat by having all its strongest tracks on side 1, barring ‘October’! And of the later albums, only “Analogue” has been the diappointment with rather safe old-man lyrics and a dull approach on stuff like ‘Thin Blue Line’, ‘Halfway Through The Tour’ and ‘Summers Of Our Youth’.

    “Foot Of The Mountain” was another classic with 10 perfect tracks, in fact I was upset there were only 10 on it, so I’m glad there’s a few more on this, but that doesn’t mean it’ll touch that album. I really love the first single, the second may grow I’m sure, but for me, Duran Duran’s album is sure to be better overall, not least cos they get more criticism, but because they’re always daring and do whatever they like, and it almost always sounds right. Really looking forward to Kim Wilde’s new one when she bothers coming back next year, but the one I most want to hear is China Crisis’s “Autumn In The Neighbourhood” but typically there’s no bloody physical release.

    Saying “Cast In Steel” is overburdened with too many tracks is kind of nonsense-now that the 80s artists are older and the gaps between their albums widen, especially when they split and do other things, whether temporarily or not, it makes sense to properly stock an album with more than 10 songs-I’d bloody expect it! If it’s not strong all round, then it isn’t, but that is unusual for them, but as their last album was a masterpiece-as was “Minor Earth”, “East Of Sun” and “Lifelines” of course, they can’t pull out a 10 every time-who can and who does. People like Simple Minds, New Order and the horribly overrated and unstoppable Dpeche Mode aren’t even album quality all round, putting A-ha way above those critically lauded annoyances.

    “Cast In Steel” does not need to be perfect for me, and it may only be as good as “Analogue”, but that’s still good, and it just makes their last one even stronger. Morten’s last solo album was said to be rather “Foot Of Mountain” so I may get that, but hadn’t yet attempted his solo stuff-it doesn’t always work when artists do their own stuff when they split.

    An album may only have ten or less songs on it (like that fiorst horror by the horrific Madogga the vile) and Simple Minds ones, but if every song is 500 years long-like them, Bonnie Tyler and Level 42 and many US artists love doing, there might as well be 15 or more songs on it! In fact this last ordeal was proved by Stevie Nicks’ UTTERLY APPALLING “In Your Dreams”-a nightmare of a bore with barely 2 good songs on it classic Stevie-the rest an overegged, BORING, bloated bag of recycled embarrassments that it would have taken a shorter time to call a ceasefire in a war zone than to endure. 14 Tracks! It felt like 114 and the album can’t get better with repeated hell-it can only-and does get worse and must have been the worst release of 2011 in a year of absolute garbage anyway (like every year since the 80s). Personally I was so in love with that album instantly (it was the one that convinced to buy ALL their albums anyway) I couldn’t wait for a part 2-on all I got 3 years later was an “Analogue”-which harked back to their breakthrough in that the strongest things on it were the singles!

    And as it hasn’t been mentioned-all these albums have killer songs to end them too-much better than the 80s and 90s ones-‘Mary Ellen Makes The Moment Count’ and ‘Solace’ most notably-unlike the last one on “Analogue”! A-ha actually take the mick out of bores like Coldplay and all those others who dare to be in their image, yet never get it right for a full project-or even a complete singles discography. Only Keane are their worthy successors.

    “Cast In Steel”-I’ll get it soon, but won’t review it till the songs have grown-not every good albums works instantly does it? And while I feel Duran’s and China Crisis (should it ever appear) will beat it, that still makes it good, as they’re the only ones likely too, as all the other 80s endurers-Kim Wilde, Sandra, Alphaville, Bangles all aren’t doing albums this year. And high time all of their past stuff got remastered too-mainly Alphaville (A-ha’s equals) and Sandra-I wonder if the fact they’re both German acts is consitently being used against them. But then record labels would never be so rude and racist would they?!

  36. Arnaud says:

    Not a masterpiece! Where’s Morten voice?

  37. Wes says:

    Apples to oranges…or oranges on apple trees. We all have differing favorite songs from the past. These are tastes as indelible as flavors. There are songs that were important to us during certain times of our lives. They might be tied to a past love, a vacation, birth of a child. There are songs I used to love that I’ve now grown tired of (Out of Blue Comes Green). Likewise there are songs that I’ve never liked (Maybe, Maybe). Interestingly, there are other songs that I didn’t care for at first that I’ve grown to love (Mother Nature Goes to Heaven).

    My tastes seem to mirror Paul’s. Upon my first listen I felt like Door Ajar was the weakest track. In fact, I was asking myself if Morten kept singing “door ajar” over and over again. Yep, he was. Shadow Endeavors seemed like a close 2nd for worst track, followed by Goodbye Thompson. But after a couple of weeks of listening, Goodbye Thompson has become one of the few tracks that I’ll quickly hit “repeat” to listen to again.

    Overall, I am enjoying the album as a whole. 4/5 is my current rating. But that might change in a week for two.

    • MunroeL says:

      Wes – All of Paul’s good work is the same. It takes a fair bit of getting your head around before you love it.

      For me Shadow Endeavors is a great track, and harks back to the desolation of a Scoundrel Days track (including the coda really does draw you to it). Morten’s vocals just sound so purposeful – they do for much of the Album – but I think there is something about Alan Tarney which brings out the best in Morten’s singing.

      Once or twice I have wished I could listen to Scoundrel Days afresh, as if I’d never heard it before, to fall in love with it again. Shadow Endeavors gave me just a glimpse of that Nivarna. I’ll be forever in the debt of Cast In Steel for just that singular moment.

  38. Snowy says:

    Everybody has different opinions which is what makes music what it is. In my case I first heard the album and was not overly impressed but after hearing it a couple more time..love it! My least favourite tracks though are Door Ajar, Shadow Endeavours and Goodbye Thompson. Mags has done better on this album as his previous stuff on other A-ha albums I found were not very good at all. Just my view of many.

  39. Emmanuel says:

    It has been known that Paul worked with Tarney on 7 tracks, all of which are fully produced and mixed, but due to democratic reasons, 4 of them did not make it into the album. I find it sad, as the 3 we already know have to be my favourites, the only three that bring something new and that could not have been on Foot of the Mountain.
    But also because I don’t get the principle of putting a Deluxe edition with demos of songs from the previous album while at least 20 songs were recorded during the sessions of Cast in Steel.

  40. Marcus says:

    Sorry but I can’t agree on Mythomania being a strong song, to me it’s the worst most plodding unmusical song on the album. Overall I love this album though, my favorite album since Memorial Beach, though I have liked all their albums.

  41. Donald Marr says:

    It’s much better than a 3/5 .
    In fact it’s among their very best albums ,which is amazing coming from a band who’s members are in their late 50s.
    Very bands have produced anything half so good at such an advanced age .

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