If you chart the evolution of a-ha album covers from Stay on These Roads to Memorial Beach one thing becomes clear: members of a-ha are more likely to show a little bare chest over time. No, that wasn't the point I was going to make. The point is this: Stay on These Roads features the faces of the band on a blurry blue background with a bit of string. That's a synthpop cover if ever there was one. East of the Sun West of the Moon would definitely be a rock album cover if it weren't for Pål Waaktaar wearing a vest and a puffy shirt. By the time you get to Memorial Beach Pål has lost the vest and everybody has their shirt open to expose a little bare chest. By the album covers alone you can see that a-ha was moving themselves far from their synthpop roots and opting for a look and a sound that rocked. Of course there are plenty of a-ha fans who see this move away from the traditional a-ha sound as a big mistake, but I see it as inevitable. Unless you're AC/DC you can't make the same sort of record every time out and expect fans to not notice that you aren't changing with the times. Of course not every change is a step in the right direction, and whether or not Memorial Beach is a good album is a point some a-ha fans will be debating into their graves.
I tend to think that Memorial Beach was absolutely necessary and had plenty enough good moments to make it an interesting if not altogether satisfying listen. There are two songs on this album that have crept their way onto more of the mix tapes I have made for girls over the years than all the other a-ha songs combined. Those songs are "Dark is the Night For All" and "Angel in the Snow."
"Dark is the Night For All" is a perfect album opener if ever there was one. I have never listened to this song without thinking, "I wish I was more spontaneous in my life." It makes me want to jump in my car, point the nose toward Mexico, and drive until I hit Guatemala. If I ever make that trip, this song will be on the soundtrack for sure.
"Angel in the Snow" is a perfect song to put on a mix tape (Use an actual cassette tape. Trust me, it's still awesome) for that special someone. It's a romantic little ditty but it isn't oozing or dripping with cheese as so many are (which isn't to say I don't enjoy being knee-deep in cheese from time to time. I have mentioned before that I love Neil Diamond. 'Nuff said). It's a beautiful little ballad that you can use to tell a certain someone that you love them and want to be there for them. Not only that, it's one of the best a-ha songs in existence. You can't go wrong with this song. You just can't.
As for the rest of Memorial Beach I'm slightly less indifferent than I used to be. The rest of Memorial Beach isn't bad, but it isn't stellar either. If I had to try and pin it down I would say that it sounds like a-ha covering U2 and INXS b-sides, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In order for a-ha to eventually deliver albums like Minor Earth Major Sky and Lifelines they had to go through the transition of Memorial Beach first.