Savoy reissue their successful third album, introducing its classic songs to a new audience…
Following last year’s re-release of Lackluster Me, Bergen-based Apollon Records have now reissued Savoy’s classic third album Mountains Of Time. Originally released in 1999, the band’s biggest selling album has been remastered on CD, vinyl and digital formats, and now boasts a striking new sleeve design that incorporates both the band’s logo, and a virtual depiction of the album title. At the time of its release, the album represented Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s best set of songs since 1986’s Scoundrel Days.
Savoy were officially formed when it became evident to chief songwriter Waaktaar that Morten Harket had prioritised a solo career over plans to record a sixth a-ha album; an album that he had already started demoing, largely independently, in 1994. Joining the prolific songwriter was Frode Unneland (from the band Chocolate Overdose) and Waaktaar’s wife, Lauren Savoy. The London Film School graduate had already played a huge part in the a-ha story; not only as a source of support for her creative husband, but also as a director of some of the band’s promotional videos (she had also contributed the line “Night I left the city, I dreamt of a wolf” to ‘Cry Wolf’). As a musician in Waaktaar’s latest three-piece, Lauren Savoy was credited with co-writing all the songs, as well as contributing vocal and guitar parts.
By the time a-ha had reformed for the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo in 1998, Savoy had already released two albums; attaining a respectable level of success – both critically and commercially – in Norway. Despite a-ha’s reformation and intentions to release new material, plans were already in place to release a third Savoy album. Indeed, by the time a-ha had signed with WEA Germany in July 1999, both acts were working concurrently. “To run the two bands alongside each other was of course madness,” Waaktaar later told Jan Omdahl. “To juggle records, recording dates, release plans, tour plans, and promotional plans from two different record companies makes everything spin for me. The place of freedom that Savoy had been, became, in the end, pretty stressful.”
However, it was a confident band that entered the recording studio to cut their third record; undoubtedly buoyed by the enthusiastic response to their previous album, 1997’s Lackluster Me. “The songs kept coming – recording it was easy,” recalled Waaktaar. “Lauren was pregnant. We were giddy and excited!” Like its predecessor, the album was self-produced, with Waaktaar resuming bass-playing duties following the departure of Greg Calvert. Many of the songs were also enriched with string parts, featuring session players who have played on recordings by the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Susanne Sundfør and Morten Harket.
Such was Waaktaar-Savoy’s prolificacy during this period, the band were able to set aside songs for a fourth album. And, inevitably, there were some Savoy songs that would eventually make it on to a-ha’s comeback album, such as ‘Mary Ellen Makes The Moment Count’ and ‘Barely Hanging On’. For the Nobel Peace Prize concert, Waaktaar was presented with the dilemma of which song to play at the show, entrusting the decision to drummer Frode Unneland: “I gave Frode the choice between ‘Summer Moved On’ and ‘Man In The Park’“, he said. “He chose ‘Man In The Park’ and with that, ‘Summer Moved On’ became an a-ha song. Both songs are equally good, and I guarantee you that if a-ha had recorded ‘Man In The Park’, that would have been a hit instead.”
With both a-ha and Savoy running in tandem, both acts’ new albums inevitably ended up featuring some of the same musicians. Drummer Per Lindvall, who became a regular member of a-ha’s recording and performing setup in the noughties, guested on ‘Man In The Park’, while Savoy’s Frode Unneland featured on a-ha’s ‘Minor Earth Major Sky’ and ‘The Company Man’. When quizzed by NRK in August 1999 about the next a-ha album, Lauren Savoy replied: “The thing is, I’m an a-ha fan. I think it’s great – I’m looking forward to the next album… the more music the better!” In the end, she made two major contributions to Minor Earth Major Sky, co-writing ‘The Sun Never Shone That Day’ and adding a distinctive backing vocal to ‘You’ll Never Get Over Me’.
One other notable guest on Mountains Of Time was Magne Furuholmen, who added a gorgeous clavichord part to ‘Bottomless Pit’. Waaktaar was certainly impressed with Furuholmen’s musicianship, telling Jan Omdahl: “Magne can pick up any instrument at all and play it as if he’s been doing it all his life. I’ll never forget when he walked in and laid down a fantastic part on ‘Bottomless Pit’ in the space of two hours… I used to challenge him, and the only time I’ve been surprised was when I asked him to play the saxophone part on ‘The Living Daylights’ live at a concert. Magne bought a sax, went out in front of a packed arena, and totally screwed it up! The shock was that he couldn’t pull it off. It was the only time.”
“Life should be a song/ One of those sixties songs/ With lots of catchy phrases/ That everybody knows/ So you can sing along.” It’s this verse, taken from Lackluster Me’s ‘Foreign Film’, that seems to perfectly encapsulate the spirit of Mountains Of Time. ‘Star (I’m Not Stupid Baby)’, released as the album’s first single in July 1999, certainly provided a portent of what was to come: well-produced songs with a ’60s flavour and catchier pop sheen; an antidote to the previous album’s more sombre inflections. Featuring Lauren on lead vocals, the single was a minor hit and earned the band another Spellemannprisen nomination (the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy award).
‘Grind You Down’, featuring another Lauren Savoy vocal, was released as a promotional single in October 1999. An extremely catchy four-chord pop track, it featured some lovely arpeggiated guitar, and became a firm favourite amongst Savoy fans (it was later re-recorded for 2007’s Songbook compilation). Elsewhere, the more sombre ‘Bottomless Pit’, found itself in similar Beatles-influenced territory, subtly evoking the melodic craft of Rubber Soul. Other highlights included ‘End Of The Line’ (which has shades of Burt Bacharach) and ‘Any Other Way’, which included some effective keyboard work from session player Preben Grieg-Halvorsen, as well as a stunning middle-eight.
Whether by coincidence or by design, the album seemingly takes the listener on something of a seasonal journey. The opening ‘Man In The Park’ evokes images of springtime walks in Washington Square Park, with its tale of the ‘flower shop girl’ and the ‘man that knows’; summer is clearly represented by ‘Grind You Down’ (“You wait all year/ Then the summer comes”), and there’s some lovely wintery imagery in ‘See What Becomes’ (“I’m walking through a snowfall/ I’m just a little kid”). Lauren Savoy’s original 1960s-style sleeve design, featuring individual shots of the band, also seem to embody the album’s many moods, via its array of Warhol-inspired colour filters. As an illustration of Waaktaar’s gift for fusing melody with melancholia, it’s a largely unparalleled collection.
The album was released by EMI in July 1999, with initial copies including a bonus 5-track EP (titled The Bovarnick Twins). Reviews were unanimous in their praise. “John Lennon would have been hailed as a god if this were his solo album” claimed Dagbladet, while VG declared: “If the legendary Phil Spector had heard Savoy’s Mountains Of Time, we would probably have seen tears behind that eccentric’s sunglasses.”
And there were celebrations-a-plenty in the Waaktaar-Savoy household throughout August and September 1999, with the couple announcing the birth of their child True August, and the album hitting number one in the Norwegian charts. The celebrations continued in February 2000 when Savoy were awarded a Spellemannprisen award for ‘Best Pop Group’. “This album was so much fun to make, and we enjoyed it so much,” Lauren Savoy said during her brief award acceptance speech. “It’s so nice when you guys like it as well!”
a-ha’s comeback album Minor Earth Major Sky would attract similar plaudits, and it was no surprise when Waaktaar later described this period as one of the highlights of his career. “We got two-page reviews in all the Norwegian newspapers,” he later reflected. “That’s never happened with a-ha. The summer we had Augie and released Mountains Of Time almost at the same time was totally special. It was magical. It’s never been better.”
Mountains Of Time is available to order via www.savoyaha.bandcamp.com/album/mountains-of-time.
Sharing a birthday with singer Morten Harket, he felt a special affinity with a-ha from an early age, and has written several articles about the band and their members' various side projects. In 2018 he was personally commissioned bythe band's songwriter and guitarist, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, to pen extensive liner notes for the special vinyl edition of Våkenatt, the near-mythical second album by Bridges (a pre-fame band featuring two members of a-ha).
His first book a-ha : Down To The Tracks, is due for publication in March 2020.