Norwegian trio a-ha announced -- 24 years after topping the charts worldwide with their iconic synth pop classic "Take on Me" -- that they would split following the release of their ninth studio album, Foot of the Mountain. Produced by Steve Osborne (New Order), their 2009 swan song eschews the melancholic indie pop sound that dominated its predecessor, Analogue, and instead neatly brings their underrated career full circle by returning to the melodic electronica of their early glory days. Opening track "The Bandstand" recalls the early noir-ish atmospherics of early Depeche Mode with its pulsating new romantic basslines, eerie spacy synths, and Morten Harket's yearning vocals, while the glorious OMD-esque "Riding the Crest," arguably their most infectious pop song since 1987 James Bond theme "The Living Daylights," sounds like a number from a classic Giorgio Moroder movie soundtrack. But despite some obvious '80s influences, Foot of the Mountain is far from a contrived attempt at trying to restore former glories. The title track, a reworking of "The Longest Night," a song from keyboardist Magne Furuholmen's previous solo album, A Dot of Black in the Blue of Your Bliss, is a soaring slice of emotive piano-driven pop/rock that would make Keane green with envy; "Shadowside" is a heartbreaking ballad whose string-soaked finale evokes the cinematic choristry of Sigur Rós; and the echoing effects, Chicane-style synth chords, and Peter Hook-influenced bassline turns "Sunny Mystery" into their most clubby effort to date. The inventive streak that runs through the album's ten tracks isn't always quite as successful. Closing number "Start the Simulator" is a brave but misguided attempt at experimental post-rock, based on a rather clunky space travel metaphor that reduces Harket's beautifully understated tones to Auto-Tuned anonymity, while "Mother Nature Goes to Heaven" is a wishy-washy and meandering attempt to highlight the plight of the environment, which suggests the band is much better at tackling more personal themes than heavy-handed issues. But while many acts bow out of their careers with lackluster and hastily assembled efforts, Foot of the Mountain is the sound of a band you feel has much more to offer. If this is to be a-ha's final LP, then they've undeniably gone out on a high.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien