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The Ark

In Full Regalia

(Universal; US: Import; UK: Import)

I knew about the Ark before anyone (except Swedish people). I know more about the Ark than anyone (except for a Swede here or there).


And this makes me sad. I’ve spent years running about, proclaiming to everyone, “The Ark are the best band working!” People ignored me, but their response was irrelevant. I held the secret. I had the key. These glorious Swedes were the best band working.


Were.


Obligatory lesson: 1991, band formed, everyone hated them (I’ve heard some of their early stuff, and trust me, it is bad). Ola Salo started transforming the band, much like Lindsey Buckingham turned Fleetwood Mac from a total bore into an if-you-don’t-own-Rumours-you-just-might-die empire (that exists, to this day, literally in every single record or thrift store in the entire United States of America). Anyway, Ola the palindrome was not only a monstrous showman, he was a superb songwriter. He played Jesus in a Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar and has composed his own symphonies, for Christ’s sake. Yet pop has never been beneath him.


2000. We Are the Ark is released in Sweden, and doesn’t hit American shores. It was a promising debut; not a great album, but stuffed with some solid tracks and a nice touch of theatricality that would explode over the years. There was no sophomore slump. 2002’s In Lust We Trust is, without a question, the Ark’s best album. I don’t really understand the glam rock label continuously plastered on their existence—it could have to do with fashion or other things with which I don’t concern myself—but In Lust We Trust was a collection of seriously hooky pop-rock and some beautiful beyond belief balladry.


A suit sans soul noticed. In 2006, most likely wanting to cash in on the flamboyance of the Darkness and possibly the Killers, the Ark were signed to Virgin and released State of the Ark, another fine rock album that didn’t forget to include dance-floor sensibility or hooks… those magnificent Swedish hooks. Nobody bought it. They were back to being released in Sweden and Europe, which has made collecting their albums difficult and quite costly for me. 2007’s Prayer for the Weekend expanded on their joyous love of life through sound and even ventured into disco territory. One bad song. That’s not bad.


Now it is 2010 and we are faced with In Full Regalia, which can only be somewhat disappointing to me (maybe not you). This is the most balls-out glam rock record the Ark ever made, 10 years after being considered a glam rock band. You’ll hear your T. Rex and your Slade and the Sweet—and that’s the problem. The songs that wear their influences on their sleeves (“Publicity Seeking Rockers”, “Hygiene Squad”, “I’ll Have My Way With You, Frankie”) are just boring rock ‘n’ roll filler. It’s all so beneath Salo’s songwriting abilities, and it’s not like this was a rushed project; they had 3 years to make it.


Then there are the moments of gut-wrenching brilliance, which may even be more frustrating than rock mediocrity. For instance, the first single, the melodic rock behemoth “Superstar”, could be the song of 2010. The piano-driven ballad “Have You Ever Heard a Song?” could bring a tear to the eye of a man who is in the midst of brutally beating his wife. Or children. “Singin’ ‘Bout the City” somehow combines glam, disco, Electric Light Orchestra, War, and ‘60s soul into a massive song about… the city.


So, it is what it is. If you’ve never listened to the Ark and would like to commence that activity, find yourself a way to get In Lust We Trust, and remember, everything else is surely worth it; we just can’t expect gold every time.

Rating:

Stephen Rowland has been founding and contributing to numerous underground film and music publications for the last 12 years. In addition to critiquing images and sounds, he makes no money as a regional historian and preservationist, co-authoring "Postcard History Series: Alameda" and "Images of America: Alameda," available from Arcadia Publishing.


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