Over the past few years, the US has almost developed a crush on Sweden. Groups like the Hives, Mando Diao, and Soundtrack of Our Lives have had enough charm to turn Yankee heads, and they even brought plenty of their friends along. It’s a little strange then that the Ark has yet to really land on these shores yet. Their time coming has probably been the musical equivalent of 40 days and 40 nights, but now that they’re here, as with the Noahs, let the drinking begin.
While their fellow citizens are primarily attacking the short daylight with garage band riffs and factory-town strut, the Ark are putting on makeup, playing pop, and going glam. The band descends from Queen and Bowie (and general ’70s theatrical rock), but they don’t simply replicate the music they listened to. Throwing in their own forms of weirdness, especially on the keyboard parts, the group introduces bubblegum rock to space aliens.
That combination would be exciting enough on its own, but the Ark really succeed by covering their massive music with smart, biting lyrics. Just so you don’t mistake them for softies, the band opens the album with the kiss-off number “This Piece of Poetry Is Meant to Do Harm”, a track that skips the good-bye and goes straight to the “fuck off”. The group’s cleverness prevents the track from leaving you with a bad taste, unless you dislike turns of phrase like “Take your words and take your vows / Take your flake-fuelled Buddhist bows / Let the cool winds roughly shake / Out all darling buds of fake”. You need a special sort of alchemy to combine internal rhyme and external bile.
That bile becomes even more strident on the next track. “Rock City Wankers” indicts the music world and its posturing and mythologizing: “You put a spike into your vein / Oh no! Does it make you think you’ve got / The blood of Thunders in your brain?” (This from a band influenced by the New York Dolls.) Rather than pissing about and claiming that makes you an artist, you can improve your situation, and the Ark tell you how to start: “Try some manners, fuck-face!” It’s juvenile, yes, but it’s that bitter bubblegum again.
For all its wit and quirk, the band keeps the music straightforward, if not always simple. For most tracks, the Ark utilizes heavy bass hits on the downbeats, using a traditional method to dance up a 4/4 number. With the big rock presentation, the dancefloor moments can become anthemic, as on “Deliver Us From Free Will” (with its nice little play on the vowel sounds in evil). We don’t need a Grand Inquisitor for this indictment, merely five hurt dudes whose singer proclaims, “I was a Jabba the Hut Slut / Cut to the next frame do it again”. But it’s a searching song — “Give us a reason to fall to the ground / A miracle!” — that wishes to be free of individual weight even as it looks for a greater glory, mocking faith while desiring it all at once.
The album closes with further yearning and dissatisfaction, as the slow call and questionable honesty of “No End” gives way to “Trust Is Shareware”. This number echoes the Elvis Costello of This Year’s Model, as it attacks the soporific effects of society and announces “My kind of trust is a shareware” in a way that’s utterly absurd and nearly perfect as a close to this album. Ola Salo sings, “My talk is dirty but my boots are clean”, and he describes his band pretty well. It’s not often that we get to rock, think, and dance all at once in the way the Ark helps us to do, throwing a party and showing off, and not feeling like idiots. The current State of the Ark is that of a guilty pleasure with none of the guilt. Or maybe like discovering that once you’re down to your underwear that you’ve actually only been drinking near-beer all night.
But with glass in it.
The Ark – Clamour for Glamour