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Monday, January 03, 2011

Arkeology: Day One

So as you may or may not know, 2011 will be the last year for my favorite band, The Ark. They are one of the biggest reasons I started this blog in the first place, so it's only fitting that I see them off with a tribute of sorts, all leading up to their release of greatest hits single Breaking Up With God a week from today (and from the sample I've heard, it sounds like it's going to be a return to form).

5 albums, 5 days. Every track and b-side reviewed. This will be the ultimate guide to the band!

Day One:

We Are The Ark (2000)

Airbrushed to look plastic on the album cover, this was the band's huge leap into the mainstream and a reinvention from their lo-fi, grungy beginnings. Their overall look was probably the most extreme it's ever been, with Ola sporting many different colors of hair and more than one glam leotard/bodysuit. As Ola's said before, it was the band's "me" album -- more a statement of intent than anything. It wouldn't be until the next release that they widened their perspective and focused more heavily on social issues.

Debuted at #1
46 weeks in the top 60

We Are The Ark by theark

1. Hey Modern Days
One of my favorite album tracks, this was the bombastic introduction to the new Ark sound. Opening with squiggly electronics, the track soon bursts into an irresistable, sing-along chorus. It's the sound of pure, unadulterated joy. It's also a load of nonsense, which I love. 10/10
2. Echo Chamber
Single #3
Chart Peak: 42
Weeks on Chart: 13

A pomp-rock classic, this is all power chords and over-the-top vocals. The lyrics, about those who won't listen to anyone but themselves, are delightfully in your face. The song's got more swagger than most bands can dream of. 10/10
3. Joy Surrender
Single #4
Chart Peak: 23
Weeks on Chart: 6

A slow-burn glam track which sees some incredibly low vocals from Ola and some excellent guitar work in the epic chorus. I still think it's an odd choice for a single since it's not the catchiest song on the album, but this is classic Ark. 10/10
4. It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane
Single #2
Chart Peak: 7
Weeks on Chart: 22

Speaking of classic, I'm not even sure what I can say about this one. It's probably the band's most well-known song and the one that broke them into the mainstream (it spent a whopping four months in the top ten!). It was also recently voted the fourth best song of the millennium by the Swedish public. Quite simply, this epic ballad is one of the greatest anthems ever written. It means too much to me to encapsulate in a small review like this. 10/10
5. Ain't Too Proud To Bow
Continuing with the self-pride theme, this punchy uptempo track has always suffered a bit from immediately following It Takes A Fool. The lyrics are very clever, but the song as a whole is certainly lighter than the band's best material. The fire alarm bells in the chorus has always annoyed me, as well. 8/10
6. Bottleneck Barbiturate
This is very much a template for the classic, old-school Ark ballad. It's dramatic without being overpowering. It starts out a little hesitant, but once the instrumentation kicks in, it becomes a full-power, Queen-like ballad. 9/10
7. Let Your Body Decide
Single #1
Chart Peak: 59
Weeks on Chart: 1

The band's first single, later re-released after they found success with It Takes A Fool. It's more electronic than most of the material on this first album, and an excellent example of the reoccurring gender politics that dominate much of Ola's lyrics. It's as catchy as catchy gets. 10/10
8. Patchouli
For some reason, this has always reminded me of Billy Joel. It's a straight-ahead piano rocker with some excellent hand-claps and choral vocals. Definitely filler, but excellent filler. 9/10
9. This Sad Bouquet
Another very slow ballad. It's incredibly pretty and delicate, but I'm glad that the band opted for bigger sounds in the future. I would've preferred this as a b-side, as I've always thought that it cut the energy of the album. 8/10
10. Angelheads
Now we're back to the classic stuff. "Angelheads" has become the name given to Ark fans, so this song deserves recognition simply for that. It's a pretty straightforward rocker, but the excellent lyrics and performance by Ola make it stand out. 10/10
11. Laurel Wreath
The guitar riff in this track is monumental. It's such a funky departure for the band, and functions best played at full volume. It's probably the hardest rocker on the entire album. 10/10
12. You, Who Stole My Solitude
This is such an epic way to close the album. It's got an electronic, 80's feel to it -- a little bit Depeche Mode, maybe. The melody is fantastic, but the male choir at the end pushes this into different territory altogether. It's enough to give you goosebumps. 10/10
ALBUM: 9.5/10

EPS & B-sides:

The Ark EP (1996)

The Ark EP by theark

1. Racing With The Rabbits
Far from the sound most people have come to love from the Ark, this debut EP (released four years prior to their mainstream debut), is a grungier affair. It has a lo-fi, demo quality to it, though you can hear glimpses of what was to come. The seesaw melody and religious allusions form a bridge between their initial, unreleased recordings like The Lamb (6/10) and Flower King (4/10), from the mid nineties, and their newer stuff. This, though, sounds much more like a rough draft on the way to something better. 5/10

2. I Laid It Down
Similar sound, less engaging melody. I like the jangly sound of the guitars and the hint of a majestic backdrop coming through, but this, again, is just a very different band. 5/10

3. Cracked Messiah
There's a definite Bowie influence in the vocals here, though the religious antics and the plodding guitar crunch of the chorus is actually reminiscent of Marilyn Manson. One of my least favorite Ark songs. 4/10

4. Od Slatrom Ekil
Easily the band's longest song at just under ten minutes, you get the feeling from the puffed up length to the backwards title ("Like Mortals Do"), that this is the band at their peak of youthful pretension. Again, their are small hints of what's to come, especially in the bombast of the melodic chorus. But the song's way too long. I rarely make it through the whole thing before switching to something else! 5/10

Siamese Centerfold (Demo) (B-side to Let Your Body Decide)
A downtempo, funky piece of electro-glam. It definitely sounds more unfinished than the other b-sides from the album. I'd love to hear a full, fleshed out version. As it stands, this is a strong, if somewhat uneventful entry in their catalog. 8/10

Siamese Centerfold (demo) by theark

The Homecomer (b-side to It Takes A Fool...)
A delicate ballad in the vein of This Sad Bouquet or Bottleneck Barbiturate from the album. I'm glad it was left off the album, as I feel it would drag down the energy, but on its own terms it's a provocative story-song with a nice melody and great performance from Ola. 8/10

The Homecomer by theark

Topsy Kaiser (b-side to Joy Surrender)
One of the band's absolute best b-sides, and also a strong indication of where the next album would be going in both sound and lyrical content. Built on a powerful, sneering guitar riff, this punky rocker is a bombastic call to arms that easily could have been a single. 10/10

Topsy Kaiser by theark

Cygnet To Cygnet (b-side to Joy Surrender)
Another track that's single-quality, even though it's been relegated to b-side status. It's a more flamboyant, theatrical piece of glam rock with some incredible vocals and mysterious lyrics. 10/10

Cygnet To Cygnet by theark

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Anonymous ArkArmy said...

Couldn't have described those songs any better. Great job Nick. The Ark boys would be so happy to read this.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Myfizzypop said...

Just catching up on this. Great read - i have some of their albums but am clearly missing lots from my collection and the additional info is gold :) Loving it!

10:15 PM  

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