Bisexual-led Swedes The Ark ditch artsy angst for a rocking good time
There’s something delicious about a well-timed backlash. That’s especially true when addressing the staid state of American rock. Currently in the grips of an almost 10-year obsession with the influence of dour and mopey groups like Joy Division and The Cure, new American bands have all but sacrificed flashy showmanship for angst-driven art. Thanks to our European friends, however, tortured whining has given way to more festive expression.
The first salvo came three years ago when The Darkness emerged. Having rediscovered arena rock and unitards, the band rose to fame with their outlandish brand of theatrical heavy metal. Most recently, queer friendly Swedish group The Ark has taken another whack at shoe-gazing conventions, by reviving the sexy glam sound that swept the globe in the ’70s. With their third album, “State of the Ark” recently released in the U.S., the group not only sounds like a boogie-rock good time, but also a band with a message behind the merriment.
Led by bisexual singer Ola Salo, The Ark formed in 2001. Over the years, they’ve become one of Sweden’s more popular new acts. An energetic live band, The Ark’s leather-and-feathers outfits combined with Salo’s sneering vocals make for a heck of site onstage. But just as impressive as the group’s outrageous fashions is their unimpeachable pop laced with socially conscious lyrics.
“The State of the Ark” opens with the cool tell-off “This Piece of Poetry Is Meant to Do Harm.” A perfect glam riff, the track features Salo’s expressive falsetto over a laid-back backbeat guitar strut. Like David Bowie and T. Rex, whom The Ark closely resemble, tracks are almost minimalist, letting vocal harmonies do most of the heavy lifting against straight-ahead rock beats. Occasionally, the group approaches a disco groove, as on the chorus of “Let Me Down Gently.” At the other end of the spectrum is the upbeat “Hey Kwanongoma” whose peppy beat, chimes and hand-claps bring to mind the new-wave-inspired pop of the ’80s.
In spite of the group’s catchy sound, there’s more to The Ark than a good time. In 2002, the band made headlines in Sweden for their pro-gay adoption anthem “Father of a Son.” And while the closest The Ark get to social commentary on “The State of the Ark” is the blistering and clever “Rock City Wankers,” there’s little doubt that Salo and crew are more than just dumb rockers.
Don’t expect “The State of the Ark” to be anything more than it is a flirty sexy beats to get the party started. But don’t be surprised if after listening to this record a few times, you find yourself just as enamored with its smart lyrics and impressively efficient execution.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 07, 2006.