"I was born to start a revolution"

Years active: Genres: Related artists:
1991 - 2011 Glam Rock, Pop/Rock n/a

Line-up: Ola Salo (vocals, the occasional piano), Mikael Jepson (guitar) Lars "Leari" Ljungberg (bass), Martin Axén (guitar, 1997 onwards), Sylvester Schlegel (drums, 1999 onwards after first Magnus Olsson and then Magnus Rosengardten in the 1990s). The band's touring keyboard player Jens Andersson became a formal member from 2007 onwards.

The classic tale of a band striking lightning when they're fresh out of the even and then fumbling to figure out where to go next. Except that in this case The Ark's rise to surface was technically a decade after their actual start (talk about a slow start) and while those later albums were a little more lacklustre, it wasn't for a lack of trying.

For the non-Nordics (and the Nordics who weren't around in the early 2000s), for a couple of years The Ark were sizeably successful. They had taken a long while to get to that point: the band's story starts all the way in 1991 and they recorded a few scattershot singles and one slightly more available EP during the next decade, but it's barely even a footnote in the band's history. For all intents and purposes they spent several years trying to understand what it is they actually wanted to do without much success and they almost ceased to exist at one point, and it wasn't until the decision to effectively merge the side project of some of the members with the main band that The Ark reincarnated into the form that began to gain traction (and effectively burying the old history behind). But when they did launch with a new sound - more pop, more glam, less gothic gloom - they became overnight stars. The first two albums spawned a number of hits - and attracted me as well.

It's only really in retrospect that I've really understood how much The Ark spoke to me as a teen still figuring myself out. The Ark were unashamed and loud about who they were and it showed up not just in their outrageous stage cloths but also in their lyrics. Ola Salo was openly bisexual and extremely outspoken how that meant he was also attracted to his own sex; and he knew that would spark reactions and so he emphasised it as well as general acceptance and openness in his lyrics. I go into this in a bit more detail in my review for their debut, but The Ark was the first instance that I can recall of a band talking about being gay and about living your life according to who you are within - and as a sheltered and impressionable gay teen it was quite frankly mindblowing to hear those ideas being expressed so openly in a song. I wouldn't quite say that The Ark had an impact on my personal development and acceptance of myself, but I do recall feeling both a little nervous and thrilled about how open they were about these things... and finding it empowering, really.

Inadvertently, the band's first decade did end up dictating how the next would go as well. It's the famous story of a dog finally catching the car he's chased and then not knowing what to do with it - The Ark had finally found an international audience well beyond the tiny crowds of their home town they thought they'd never be able to escape, and after a brief moment in the sun I don't think the band knew where to go from there. The second half of their active career is a series of unstable footings, concessions and attempts to reinvigorate the band: the confusion of The State of The Ark, the all-in bid for public popularity with Prayer for the Weekend, the writer's block last ditch attempt of In Full Regalia. It's a series of albums by a band who had been creating magic but knew they wouldn't be able to keep it up forever and kept stepping on one rake after another as they tried to find a way out. It's why The Ark are placed in the arbitrary class D, because while those first two albums were - and are - timelessly brilliant, the rest of their career are almost footnotes with the occasional highlight.

But for those few years, there were no bands around as colourful, as exhuberant and as joyously charismatic as The Ark. A fantastic mix of melodies, flair and message - glam rock reincarnated with a turn-of-millennium twist, with a frontman who in just two albums revealed himself to be one of the all-time greats in delivery and performance. That's still worth celebrating.

Main chronology:

Other releases:


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1996 5 "Racing with the Rabbits", "I Laid It Down"

1) Racing With the Rabbits; 2) I Laid It Down; 3) Cracked Messiah; 4) Od Slatrom Ekil

More grim than glam: mystical ramblings and loud guitar walls. The Ark, before they realised who The Ark were.

The thing to note about The Ark's debut EP (officially self-titled but I've heard this being referred to as Racing With the Rabbits EP too) is that this is a very different band to the one that would finally break through under the same name - after all, the EP was released four years before the debut album, and The Ark themselves had existed for a good few years before the EP was recorded. Instead of glittery glam rock and witty lyrics with a sharp tongue, the overall feel here is something more cryptic, noisier on the guitar and occasionally even veering towards dark and heavy. You can still recognise The Ark through the cracks, mostly thanks to Ola Salo's voice, but there's quite a distance between this and their eventual debut album We Are The Ark. That's something to consider when approaching the EP - I felt very cold towards this when I initially came across it due to my expectations being somewhere completely different, but as soon as you can shake that off you can very well enjoy the EP for what it is: a decent four-set song.

The first two tracks are the most Ark-like. "Racing with the Rabbits" starts like a creepy children's lullaby thanks to its recorder intro and Salo's downtone singing, but it turns into an almost-jubilant cascade of choruses the closer the track gets to its end, and you can start to hear the reach for the skies that would become emblematic for them once the band properly got going. It leads onto "I Laid It Down", which is the closest to The Ark you know (and love?) out of the four cuts, and might have even fit one of the earlier albums had it been polished further. The choral "Oppular!" chants are even something close to fun, which stands out in an otherwise quite po-faced release. They're also, perhaps not coincidentally, the best part of this EP. They're rough but there's enough real quality pushing through: a still struggling band starting to catch onto what they're actually good at.

The course correction hasn't yet quite started to crack on the second half of the EP, and it's this section where the ugly duckling reputation of this release comes from. "Cracked Messiah" is the first lyrical tease of the general territory where Salo and the band would make their home in, as opposed to the cryptic babbling and mythological references of the rest of the release, but musically its hard rock inspirations come across misguided at best, and the dark, murky atmosphere and the heavier breakdowns aren't all that well executed. The final track, "Od Slatrom Ekil" closes the EP on a more distinctive even if still not particularly remarkable fashion, mismashing ideas and elements from the rest of the EP and stretching the concoction to ten minutes, which is about six minutes too many for what it actually offers. I'm a sucker for an epic finale but "Od Slatrom Ekil" tries too hard to be one and just gets monotonous.

It's still quite interesting to listen to this in retrospect, but like many debut EPs its place is in the curio box aimed solely for the fans, and even that comes with reservations given how distinct it is from what anyone would actually consider The Ark's signature sound. And that's not rare, bands quite frequently evolve their sound from their very start to even when they get to a proper studio for the first time, but most of the time there's a clear line between the distant end points. This EP on the other hand is fascinating simply because of how distinctly different it is, even when you can hear some of the same DNA bubbling through. It doesn't excuse half the EP from being not particularly memorable, no matter how hard the band try to sound mystical and artsy, and I honestly wouldn't go out of one's way to seek this out unless you’re a real enthusiast. I would absolutely love to have witnessed this particular evolution in real time when it happened, though - there's got to be some very interesting stylistic experiments in the four years between this and the debut.

Physically: Slim jewel case, lyrics hidden in the inlay of the cover slip. Fairly basic fare, as expected from an early EP. I imagine my copy is a repress given I bought it from a fairly big online store rather than a collector's site, but I've not been able to track the exact issue given the catalog number seems to have remained the same.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2000 8 "Hey Modern Days", "Joy Surrender", "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane"

1) Hey Modern Days; 2) Echo Chamber; 3) Joy Surrender; 4) It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane; 5) Ain't Too Proud to Bow; 6) Bottleneck Barbiturate; 7) Let Your Body Decide; 8) Patchouli; 9) This Sad Bouquet; 10) Angelheads; 11) Laurel Wreath; 12) You, Who Stole My Solitude

A flamboyant and confident debut, both bolstered and perhaps overshadowed by the inclusion of one truly immortal song.

I don’t like to generalise but I think all of us gay folks (and presumably all non-straight and/or non-cis folks for that matter) end up doing a fair bit of amateur self-psychoanalysis sooner or later in our lives: what were the first signs that we felt different from our peers, when did we feel at odds when comparing to the expected, et cetera. In general I was a late bloomer when it came to dealing with that whole subject properly, but the sudden arrival of The Ark in the early 2000s was probably the first time the topic appeared as a blip on my radar. Their colourful music scored a fair few significant airplay hits at a time when mainstream popularity was the only real way for me to discover new music and I found myself drawn into those songs, but they came with flamboyant performances and Ola Salo’s playfully provocative theatrics, and thus the band were deemed - in the most elementary grade school way possible - gay, and that wasn’t cool to like. I was a nerdy and not particularly outgoing kid in a small city with a very small friends circle and so I was always paranoid about losing what little social interaction I had, and liking The Ark became something I was very cautious to admit: I sheepishly bought the “It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane” single in the first instance so as not to commit myself wholly to the band by way of owning a whole album, because I felt like I needed to have that song around me. I wasn’t exactly fluent in English but knew it far better than most kids my age (thanks PC games!), and even with my limited knowledge of the language there was something in that song that resonated.

Every morning I would see her getting off the bus
The picture never drops, it's like a multicolored snapshot
Stuck in my brain, it kept me sane
For a couple of years, as it drenched my fears
Of becoming like the others
Who become unhappy mothers
And fathers of unhappy kids
And why is that?
'Cause they've forgotten how to play
Or maybe they're afraid to feel ashamed
To seem strange
To seem insane
To gain weight, to seem gay
I'll tell you this:
That it takes a fool to remain sane
In this world all covered up in shame

That’s a hell of a verse, and even as a kid there was something in its proud defiance that spoke to me - and word-dropping “gay” into the whole thing and grabbing that particular subject head-on felt literally rebellious and smashing taboos. Yet in an unexplainable way it felt good and right to hear it, though the reason why wouldn’t properly click until some years later. But I obsessed over the song and to this date it’s very firmly in my pantheon of my favourite songs of all time: Salo’s fearsomely charismatic performance, that absolute killer of a chorus melody, the breathless run-on section demonstrated above where Salo breathlessly abandons all notion of where to split between the verse, bridge and the chorus, and that soaring, triumphant chorus itself where it feels like the world genuinely has no boundaries. They all coalesce into a genuinely life-affirming, resonant and thoroughly evocative anthem: a monster of a pop song.

Nothing on We Are The Ark threatens to top "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane", but the same qualities that make that song so great are still represented throughout the record. In the five years between their debut EP and this record, The Ark had somehow transformed from a group of borderline sullen goths into a gang of endlessly energetic ambassadors of glam rock throwbacks, and they roll in with the fervour of a band reborn and grasping everything precious about their new life: so much of the record is so positively boisterous and aspirationally joyous. The credit to a lot of it goes to Salo, who even this early on was already scouting for a slot in the halls of all-time great frontmen, with his voice and performance radiating with charisma and sheer, complete command of his audience with every wink of the eye or uttered sentence. There's a charm and a quirk to his lyrics as well that helps make him so engaging. I once read them described as incredibly obviously written by someone not native to the language, not because of grammatical errors but because they exhibit a kind of outside-the-box thinking that's definitely not natural but effective exactly because of it: just take a look at the tongue-twister chorus of "Hey Modern Days", the opener that kicks down the doors and writes the ruleset for the rest of the record to follow, from the extravagant whimsy to the sheer strength of the melodies. He's just as memorable when he's more direct as well: "Let Your Body Decide" is the album's definitive "love yourself regardless of who you are" anthem among many but Salo makes the honesty in the message work, and the swirling, moody closer "You, Who Stole My Solitude" is possibly the only song about love I've come across where the narrator is downright angry about finding someone and falling in love ("did you expect a love song?", Salo coyly winks at the camera at the end of the second verse). He's not necessarily a consistently incredible lyricist but he has a language of his own, and it makes a good part of why The Ark were so exciting.

It's worth emphasising the musical aspect of the record as well, as it's the richness of the melodies that makes We Are The Ark such an exciting album, particularly as a debut. The Ark's glam-influenced pop/rock is the kind of thing that aims to be instant by nature, and when you opt to go down that route you have to go in for the kill when it comes to your choruses, harmonies et al. So, they do. With debuts there's often a great temptation to talk about confidence and ambition, of a band wishing to take on the world and proving why their name should be the one to remember. That's certainly the ethos behind We Are The Ark, where each of the songs exist as one big hook in the best possible way, in that the arrangements and melodies genuinely grab: they're genuinely thrilling in a way that plants a smile across one's face through the sheer power of how well those elements are crafted or how they are presented. They make an instant impression and it's almost show-off-y in how The Ark approach that aspect of their writing. That's even the case for the weaker tracks. "Echo Chamber" kind of goes nowhere, "Ain't Too Proud to Bow" is a sass anthem that only really kicks in once the duelling guitar solo begins and leads into the final blown-up chorus where the song stops being a little flat, and "Patchouli" is almost obnoxiously upbeat in its hippy-dippy sunshine handclaps and sax, and yet they still get under my skin and I can groove to them quite willingly. The reason why I don't think as highly of them is because they come across less developed than the other songs: they lack the sense of dynamics and a level of depth the rest of the album has. Salo's still magnificent as always, but a few times around the record it feels like the band as a whole are almost holding themselves back, lest they get too wild. Maybe it's because there was still some element of figuring out what they should be even after a nearly a decade of musical soul-searching, but you compare the incredibly confident takes like "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane" or the dangerous disco swerve of "Let Your Body Decide" that keep you in their grip firmly throughout and compare to them how "Echo Chamber" and "Patchouli" meander through their verses until they get some jolt of life in their chorus, and you can practically feel yourself swaying to avoid falling into the gap between.

Which leads me to tackling the big question of how this hasn't become the kind of favourite-of-all-time, perfect score record you'd expect given its pivotal role in making me question the world around me, and it's honestly because the album as a whole arrived a little late to the party. I finally got hold of the full album a few years later after hearing and buying "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane", once my friends and I had grown up by a few years and the diversity in music tastes between us had started to show, and it became clear to me that it was perfectly OK to like things that your friends might not. By the time I finally did get around to hearing We Are The Ark in full, they'd already followed it up with 2002's In Lust We Trust and I bought both albums at the same time, and simply from a compositional point of view that older sibling is above and beyond the debut, and Salo gets downright brilliant lyrically in it. That doesn't make We Are The Ark any weaker per se, and I still haven't even mentioned some of my other big favourites (so I'm cramming them here) such as the dramatic "Joy Surrender" with its angelic walls of sound, the flamboyant and parading "Angelheads" that brings a burst of light into the slightly more downtoned latter half of the record, and the genuinely beautiful "This Sad Bouquet" which shows the band can pull off quiet and intimate if they want to. But In Lust We Trust ended up overshadowing We Are The Ark at the time of purchase and "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane" is an outlier on the album in how strongly it connected with me as a music listener and as a human being, compared to the other songs. Outside that, We Are The Ark is absolutely a great record, and when I simply want some larger-than-life pop songs performed by an extravagant gentleman, this is where I turn for such. At its best makes you feel completeley invincible as you stand on top of the world.

Physically: Jewel case, liner notes in glossy(!) paper. Lyrics and pictures of all band members, photo manipulated to the point they have an uncanny valley real doll look to them. Salo gets the whole centrefold for himself, of course.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2002 9 "Tell Me This Night Is Over", "Calleth You, Cometh I", "The Most Radical Thing to Do"

1) Beauty Is the Beast; 2) Father of a Son; 3) Tell Me This Night Is Over; 4) Calleth You, Cometh I; 5) A Virgin Like You; 6) Interlude; 7) Tired of Being an Object?; 8) Vendelay; 9) Disease; 10) 2000 Light-Years of Darkness; 11) The Most Radical Thing to Do

The Ark's imperial phase record, perfecting their tricks and sound and delivering an incredible record with it.

In Lust We Trust os the big blockbuster sequel to We Are The Ark. The stakes are higher, the explosions are bigger and the drama is more intense, all tailor-made for a grand big screen experience. The plot beats are familiar from the first go-around but the actors are more familiar with their roles and the script is tighter, and by this point this allegory is really starting to stretch thin but the point should be clear. In summary, The Ark’s second album is largely the same as the first, but everything has been upscaled. Good job The Ark are extravagant by nature, so blowing things bigger works perfectly with their propensity for universal emotions and towering pop hooks.

Sometimes albums are great simply because everyone involved is bringing in their A-game and it reflects in the music, and this is absolutely the case with In Lust We Trust in a nutshell. The tricks the band pull off are familiar from the first album and The Ark are still riding on their timeless glam rock revival route, but everything is better than the last time around (when it was already really good): as an album it's more consistent, more dynamic, and crafted with a clear vision in mind to create a larger than life experience. In Lust We Trust is undeniably a bigger album than the debut and as said, that grandeur really works in the band’s favour because of who they are and that they’ve got the gusto to pull it off. The biggest example of this is most obviously “2000 Light-Years of Darkness”, the crescendo epic towards the tail end of the record which flows so naturally that the near ten-minute length feels like under five, because not a moment of it is wasted: the bright backing vocals and shimmering guitar lines switch into the extended finale that burns brighter and brighter the higher it reaches. It hardly even sounds like the most bombastic thing on the record, it simply sustains its fireworks the longest.

The Ark know what they're going for and sound far more confident about their own shtick on In Lust We Trust, and at times come close to aggressively direct in their methods and how in-your face they are about them. If the initial singles from the first album talked about accepting oneself and gently dropped a few quick LGBT mentions in the process to direct you in the right context, on In Lust We Trust's lead single “Father of a Son” Salo straight-on slaps off any naysayers, concluding with “I may be gay but I can tell you straight away / I’ll be a better father than all of you anyway”. A lesser frontman would stumble lines on like that, but Salo’s brash attitude is infectious - he’s absolutely not taking any prisoners this time around and he's got the charisma to back his occasionally corny but often excellent wordsmansmith. And where Salo goes, the rest of the band follows in his wake, all guns blazing.

Apply this across all eleven tracks (including the surprisingly good interlude) and you basically have In Lust We Trust all figured out. The Ark are turning up the dials but they work the hell out of it, e.g. the gospel choir on “Tell Me This Night Is Over” only elevates the already gorgeous track by turning into the skyscraper of drama it aches to be, particulary when the call-and-answer parts begin, and “Calleth You, Cometh I” is more or less the perfect pop song in its relentless brightness and shine because it’s not afraid to go really big and loud in its glorious burst of a chorus. “A Virgin Like You” and “Disease” offer some subtlety without breaking the consistency, even as the latter threatens to swoon into a kind of morbid goth disco during its big handclap choruses. Even the side tracts work: the sitar-affected “Vendelay” is a curiously jaunty little number that takes a big breather away from the glam-rock bangers of the rest of the record, but it fits where it's been placed, carries enough of the same tone and sound to its peers that it doesn't sound like it's in the wrong company and it still manages to rise to the occasion towards its end. There are no misses, no inconsistencies or tripping points on In Lust We Trust - it's an album by a band doing what they do best and absolutely nailing it, which is so unexciting to write about but so thrilling to listen to.

The best is saved for the last. Once “2000 Light-Years of Darkness” has faded away, a delicate string section acts as a pre-gap intermission before “The Most Radical Thing to Do” quite literally punches into life through it. “The Most Radical Thing to Do” is The Ark at their absolute peak condition, bringing together In Lust We Trust in form and concept. The album’s confrontational attitude and rock and roll power roll up into a hedonistic credo that swaggers cockily through its verses, which then suavely cruise into the chorus that brings back those interlude strings and where Salo’s voice moves from brash to vulnerable and the lyrics whiplash the sentiment of the verses. The veneer and facade of all that bravado is replaced with genuine sentimentality: so much of the magic of The Ark’s first two albums rests in how Salo manages to make perhaps corny sentiments work through the power of his writing pen and his beast of a performance, and once again he genuinely sells the desperation and hope he pulls from the simple declaration of equal love as a force. As a closer “The Most Radical Thing to Do” brings the grand curtain call that calls for a standing ovation, but perhaps even more importantly it's another song that resonated in a questioning teen like me and made feel more comfortable about my own preferences. “It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane” (which was guided by similar themes and affected by the same resonance) from the debut will always be my favourite The Ark song but “The Most Radical Thing to Do” stays so close the two are practically holding hands.

With In Lust We Trust The Ark secured their place in my personal canon, only two albums in. This is despite the fact that in (brutal) honesty, they started sliding downhill pretty suddenly and steadily right after this and never recovered before they called it a day, which normally “dooms” artists to be relegated to the sidelines for me. But these first two albums are simply so great that you can’t just go on and ignore the band when they’ve delivered something of their caliber, and everything across In Lust We Trust in particular radiates the strength of musicians experiencing their imperial phase and smoothly cruising through a seemingly endless pool of creativity. It's reminiscent of the kind of power associated with classic rock albums and how they can make an audience roar from the loud and invigorating power of people playing together on a stage; just less power chords, more feather boas and none of the clichés. Almost like The Ark looked at the magnum opuses of their favourites from their record collection and collectively determined that they can absolutely do the same, completely effortlessly.

Physically: Nice thick booklet with a ton of scrapbook style photos and artwork, as well as the lyrics (some in questionable font colour choices against the backdrops). All very vivid and pleasing. Standard jewel case.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2004 7 "Clamour for Glamour", "Hey Kwanongoma!", "Deliver Us from Free Will"

1) This Piece of Poetry Is Meant to Do Harm; 2) Rock City Wankers; 3) Clamour for Glamour; 4) One of Us Is Gonna Die Young; 5) Let Me Down Gently; 6) Hey Kwanongoma!; 7) The Others; 8) Girl You're Gonna Get 'Em (Real Soon); 9) Deliver Us From Free Will; 10) No End; 11) Trust Is Shareware

Disjointed and unfocused attempt at a new sound, but in their hyperactive back-and-forth The Ark do pull off some intriguing songs.

The third album is usually where bands start changing things around, toying with their established sound and exploring new avenues. The glam rock sound that The Ark had been triumphing with has therefore appropriately been updated for their respective third record State of The Ark, and in parts replaced with a clearer influence from the artsier side of 80s new wave. Everything is processed to the point that sometimes it's hard to tell where the live band ends and the programmed elements begin: the drums have been filtered to the inch of their life so the snares blare with a dull electronic thud, there's zany keyboard and synthesiser elements all over the place and the production lays a pristine, plastic skin over the band underneath. There's a lack of bass tones and depth, which comes off almost cheap at first until it clicks that it's pretty on par with the British invasion groups of the 1980s, although that doesn't really excuse it as such either. The band have clearly retained their own identity so it's undeniably The Ark we are talking about, but State of The Ark represents a big leap into somewhere completely different.

The more surprising change is how bitter The Ark are throughout State of The Ark. The first two albums were above anything else positive records: life-affirming motivational boosts, charming sass and extended verses on believing in oneself. Now the album starts with a venomous kiss-off (“This Piece of Poetry Is Meant to Do Harm” is exactly what it states), moves onto various takedowns on rock star and celebrity culture (“Rock City Wankers”, “Clamour for Glamour”), flips off organised religion for good measure on the way (“Deliver Us From Free Will), and never in a particularly constructive fashion. They’re snappy and annoyed; even the tracts on all outcasts coming together sound like they’re building a mob (“The Others”). Even the more surreal lyrics (which there are plenty this time) tend to veer into quick frustrated quips before moving on, and when it’s direct it’s awkwardly so - “now here’s some good advice: try some manners fuckface” is a long way from the past two records’ lyrics. This isn’t necessarily bad by default but the issue that The Ark bump into with it is that this negative attitude comes across off when it’s coming from them. It’s like when we’re hungry, we’ve had a bad day at work and we accidentally snap at people next to us; that’s not really who you are and even you acknowledge it. State of The Ark is like Ola Salo just wasn’t in the mood for anything at the day of recording and so you get a set of songs that don’t sound right, and never sits comfortably.

It further accentuates what a strange record State of The Ark is. Between the catty attitude and the new sound, The Ark’s songwriting has gone slightly off the rails. You can count the typical Ark-like anthems with one hand: “One of Us Is Gonna Die Young” with its arpeggio synths is a jolly choice of an obvious lead single, “No End” is gentle and intimate in a way that breaks through the tough guy facade for a little bit, and “Trust Is Shareware” plays the whole inspirational anthem thing pretty straightforwardly, though not to particularly exciting degree. Elsewhere it’s strange song structures where verses and choruses mismatch in style and tone, quirky ideas extended into entire songs and odd hybrids of new and old styles clashing. The hit and miss ratio is therefore unsurprisingly wild. The apocalyptic disco of “Deliver Us From Free Will” with its hyper-processed MIDI-esque power chords, oddball call-and-answer bridges and heaven-reaching conclusion is a piece of mad genius I can’t help but unequivocally adore, "Rock City Wankers" is saved from its trite lyrics by its hyperactive flick back and forth between a suave New York rock club and a bright and coke-fumed 80s synth scene, and the janky “Hey Kwanongoma!” sounds less like a song and more like a snowball that keeps tumbling down the hill and picks up vocoders, breakdowns, absurdist lyrics and long chorus windups along the way and it's both ballsy and effective. But then you get something like the “My Sharona” -riffing “Girl You’re Gonna Get ‘Em” or the rackety mess of “The Others” and I still don’t really know what to think of them, but it isn't glowing praise.

To its credit State of The Ark succeeds more than it fails, and at parts it does move to a direction which sounds like a natural advancement for the band, taking into account the aspirations of the new production style. The hyper-active hook brigade of “Clamour of Glamour” is musically the best of both worlds that The Ark have operated under and the moody synth pop flirtation of “Let Me Down Gently” feels criminally underdeveloped on an album where most songs end up throwing some kind of a big explosive finale; both are among the album’s most infinitely revisitable tracks simply because of how effortless they come across. The issue I have with the other songs isn’t really either the tone or the sound per se, but more that in their wild abandon they end up taking a step back for every three taken forward; I heartily enjoy most of the songs across the record but nearly all come with a ‘but...’ caveat, and as a result State of The Ark as a whole ends up plateauing somewhere along the same. It’s a good record, but it has its problems with occasionally unfocused songs, a few clunkers and the production sucking the life out of the band in the handful of songs where it isn’t working perfectly in unison with the writing.

The name State of The Ark always struck me as odd for the sleeve it’s written on. It feels like it’s meant to come across as a statement akin to ‘this is who we are now’ but the album doesn’t give the impression that The Ark really knew what they were aiming to achieve in earnest. It’s more tempting to refer to the title in the more colloquial meaning of being in a state - i.e. being a mess, disorganised, and so on. It’s more apt, if nothing else; it sounds like a band in flux pulled into the studio while they were still figuring out what they were doing, and they were cranky about it

Physically: The version I’ve got is housed in a jakebox-style packaging, the only CD I’ve got with this kind of packaging - it’s a cardboard gatefold style package, but the CD is stored in a centrefold tray that pops out, like a pop-up book. It’s very fancy! Also has a fairly straightforward lyrics booklet.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 6 "Prayer for the Weekend", "Absolutely No Decorum", "Little Dysfunk You"

1) Prayer for the Weekend; 2) The Worrying Kind; 3) Absolutely No Decorum; 4) Little Dysfunk You; 5) New Pollution; 6) Thorazine Corazon; 7) I Pathologize; 8) Death to the Martyrs; 9) All I Want Is You; 10) Gimme Love to Give; 11) Uriel

Something for everyone, on the road to Eurovision. But they've lost their bite.

The Ark were never counter-culture. They liked to flirt with ideas that could make pearl-clutching worryworts squeal, but they were a band comfortably in the mainstream, getting prime airtime and scoring genuine hits. And yet, participating in the Eurovision still felt like a little too much. Granted, Sweden has always taken Eurovision more seriously than most countries and The Ark's glam glitz was a perfect fit for the show, but the band's participation in the grand European song contest in 2007 nonetheless felt like the wrong kind of popularity peak. Maybe if they had had a better song to go along with it it would have felt like a better fit - because lord knows The Ark could crank out a great bombastic pop song - but "The Worrying Kind" is a rackety romp that manages to plod despite trying its hardest to be incredibly perky, and its self-aware camp and cheese come across cheap rather than fun. It's not a very good song, and Europe largely shrugged in agreement as the continent placed The Ark as 18th out of the 24 countries competing in the 2007 finals. Wikipedia reminds me that the points largely came from the surrounding Nordic countries and 35 countries gave it nul points. Ouch.

"The Worrying Kind" isn't directly representative of the album it ended up featuring on, but the same applies for every song on the record. Prayer for the Weekend is like an attempt to be something for everyone, with The Ark changing from outfit to outfit to suit a different crowd. Just take the first half alone: in order of appearance we have a disco hullabaloo, a glam pop stomp, a classic The Ark anthem, a gothic synth pop twist, a straightforward pop/rock get-to-the-chorus hit and a tropical summer jam so sunny it comes with a cocktail umbrella. It's an album without a real sense of identity behind it, except perhaps in that it tries to please every individual in the crowd at least once. It's there where Prayer for the Weekend follows in the steps of "The Worrying Kind": it's a straightforward album where the songs get to the point quickly, and that point is a big belter of a chorus that's most of the time a thoroughly pleasant one. If it doesn't click as a coherent album because of all its disparately styled songs, then think of it more as a collection of potential singles and Eurovision attempts (given the competition's strict three-minute rule, it's easy to spot the candidates the band wrote - and "I Pathologize" should have been the one). That's when it starts making sense.

Given all that, it’s unsurprising that Prayer of the Weekend is a hit and miss record, but it’s still staggering how frontloaded it is on its hit department: I'm cold on "The Worrying Kind" and I can give or take "New Pollution", but the rest of the list in that previous paragraph is all varying degrees of great. The horn-punched disco twang of the title track is superb and sounds like an actual party in the recording studio, "Absolutely No Decorum" doesn't invent anything new but it does what The Ark do best and it flies magnificently and effortlessly, "Little Dysfunk You" takes the synthier elements of the previous album and builds a razor sharp cut with it that drives its backbone-rattling drum beat into its gloriously dramatic chorus the likes of which Ola Salo was born to front, and "Thorazine Corazon" steers away from being an airheaded summer jam and instead simply captivates in its ridiculously upbeat nature. Even with the niggles and the incoherent style flips it’s a really great start to the album, but then the inverse is true as well and the album completely crashes towards its end. The bubblegum music theatre extravaganza of "All I Want Is You" and the painfully throwaway gospel clap-along "Gimme Love to Give" are easily the bottom two songs The Ark have ever committed on tape, to the extent that it’s genuinely surprising these are from the same band who made the first three records, and the acoustic closer "Uriel" has some idea to it but it meanders for over five minutes when it really doesn't need to. The album is a water slide that starts with ecstatic twists and turns, mellows a little towards the middle and the closer you get to the end the more you start to realise someone forgot to fill the pool below.

An even bigger shame is that sometime during the recording sessions The Ark have lost their fangs. It's probably too easy to let the album be discoloured by its Eurovision association (and I say this as someone who enjoys watching it yearly, in its own way) but nine times out of ten, going to Eurovision means that you're vying to be the nation’s darlings while making a push for international mass recognition. Prayer for the Weekend is exactly the kind of record that comfortably mingles in that particular crowd, because it’s safe enough for everyone to like. The previous three records had actual attitude, they championed particular topics with pride and meaning, the arrangements had surprises in their hats and aces in their sleeves and the band overall exhibited a certain kind of joy de vivre that they sang out loud with gusto. In comparison, Prayer for the Weekend has ended up a lot more edgeless and vanilla (the generic super market ice cream kind, not the real deal), with songs about sweet nothings. Sometimes with albums that go from place to place you can feel the fun in the studio that the artists had when trying their hand in brand new sounds, but Prayer for the Weekend bears the sound of professional session musicians doing their day job with a careful constraint not to go too wild. The one time you get something off-track is the section in “Death to the Martyrs” where Salo gleefully shouts out “cunt”, but it’s so clunky and ill-fitting in what’s otherwise such a squeaky clean album that it feels like an editing error. Prayer for the Weekend barely sounds like a record made by The Ark, with only Salo’s vocals reminding of the personality the band radiated over the brim in the past. Without him, this could have been a record from any odd band trying to play it safe, and safe just isn’t that exciting.

It would be easy to call Prayer for the Weekend a clear sell-out record but that phrase comes with certain connotations I’m not so keen on, primarily that implies a cynical deal with the devil to get more cash. Even with its polish and facelessness, that’s never been the vibe that Prayer for the Weekend has hinted at. Maybe after the bitter and alienating State of The Ark the band felt they needed to bring back their positivity and hints of their old sound, and it somehow ended up routing them towards a path that ended in Eurovision and a record like this - I’m not certain. But the reason I feel so mixed about is because Prayer for the Weekend isn’t without its genuine strengths and I feel the need to defend it for that. It’s just that they’re mostly all in the beginning and the more you listen to the album, the more ambivalent you come to think about it.

Physically: My copy is a standard jewel case + lyrics affair - some editions of the album come with a sleeve case or a holographic print to highlight the peacock feather accents, but mine’s the most basic edition you can get.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2010 4 "Stay With Me", "Singing 'Bout the City"

1) Take a Shine to Me; 2) Superstar: 3) Stay With Me; 4) Singing ‘Bout the City; 5) Have You Ever Heard a Song; 6) Publicity Seeking Rockers; 7) I’ll Have My Way With You, Frankie; 8) All Those Days; 9) Hygiene Squad; 10) The Red Cap

Fizzling out to their end, barely making their exit known.

In Full Regalia was released in April 2010, and before the year had finished The Ark had announced they were calling it a day. In posthumous interviews Salo talked about how he had been struggling to find the inspiration to write any music because he felt like he had said everything he could within the context of the band, and that he would rather consider them as a great thing of the past rather than face an uncertain future; when he contacted the other members about the idea of closing up the shop, everyone realised they had all had similar thoughts. The Ark’s last album therefore isn’t a grand farewell and a curtain bow, and rather it's the result of a group of people pushing out an album out of habit even when they've already started to think about moving on.

There isn’t much to talk about In Full Regalia, because it's got little to say for itself. It's got hints of a stylistic tweak which sees The Ark shifting a little towards late 70s and early 80s soft rock vibes, giving the impression that they were still keen to avoid repeating themselves. It's just that the songs they’ve written around that sound are the weakest selection of material they've ever pulled together. They're not so poor as to the extent that they’d actively leave a negative impression, but rather In Full Regalia is more of an indifferent shrug. It’s music that doesn’t make you hit the skip button if any of the songs come up in shuffle mode, but it makes no effort to step up and engage any further than that. The choruses don't hook, the melodies don't stick, and Ola Salo’s writing well has truly run out, just as he had confessed. At the start of the decade he wielded a razor sharp wit and laced his lyrics with both heart and cheeky wordplay, but now he's succumbed to either wishy-washy nonsense or clichés like "Publicity Seeking Rockers" or “Superstar”, both of which are literally what you'd expect from the titles alone (aimless and vague celebrity culture takedown and banal motivational poster fodder, respectively). “Superstar” is arguably the weakest song here even if it is catchier than most of the other tracks, simply because it comes across as such a low-effort crowd pleaser, with its sing-along choruses running on empty despite the stomping beat trying to make the song sound bigger than it's worth. It’s a pastiche of former glories - the exact thing The Ark were fearing to become.

The Ark aren’t leaving us completely empty-handed though. “Stay With Me” is a real highlight: it’s got the strongest melody of the record and the second verse guitar line in particular is simply captivating when mixed with the hazily melancholy background textures, Salo pulls out his best vocal performance on the record and for the whole of the song the band sound genuinely inspired and engaged. It’s moodier and more restrained than most of the record and sounds like the result of a whole different writing session, but somehow ironically has more life to it than the rest of the record, which generally bounces around with a lot of energy to make up for what it lacks in other departments. "Stay With Me" is just such a great song, and it feels unfair that it's ended up practically forgotten (including by myself) just because the rest of the album turns you off touching the record. It does also kick off a minor peaking point in the record when it's followed by "Singin' Bout the City", which turns out to be the album's second most memorable cut by way of its string embellishments and an inspiredly whirlwind, tone-shifting structure. It's not a high that admittedly lasts long, but it's there.

It still surprises me that I can only list those two songs as something to give a listen for though, and barely anything else. It's clear that everyone was already over the band by the time they got together to record In Full Regalia and maybe it was just denial that made the album happen in the first place, and so no one's really brought their A-game into it - probably because they just didn't have the energy for it. To their credit, The Ark were always a strikingly charismatic band and that hasn't changed. Even when they stumbled on the previous albums, there was energy and passion that shone through which has been synonymous with them since day one - if repeat listens of In Full Regalia have shown anything is that The Ark aren't willing to phone it in, but they simply don't have much to work with here. It's an album that absolutely dies solely by being so full of sub-standard material, and it’s a shame. The Ark were such a bright and exciting flash of thunder with their early albums, and it’s actually quite sad that their last record fizzles out, barely making a ripple.

Physically: Jewel case with a comprehensive lyrics + photos booklet. I've got the basic edition - I never bothered with the deluxe edition that came with a full magazine loaded with interviews, trivia, etc.



Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2000 10 "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane", obviously

1) It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane; 2) The Homecomer

This is where my collection started!

Forgive me for I have sinned but I will never forgive myself for the vile act of butchery I've done on this single, when on a random moment's spur I decided to grab a pair of scissors and mutilate the single's cardboard slipcase into separate pieces that would fit as jewel case inserts, because I wanted something that would fit better in the terrible plastic CD trees I used to store my music in all those years ago. It's the most horrible looking thing in my music shelf to the present day and I immensely regret everything.

It probably wouldn't be so bad if it was a single I didn't much care about but this was one of the first ones, if not the very first one, I ever bought all by myself - not because of the B-side either but all for the A-side. I've already talked about this song to some length on my review for We Are The Ark, but this song is their crowning glory and it had a massive impact on me when I first heard it. That impact hasn't lessened one bit over the years. "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane" is still everything a perfect pop song would wish to be. Soaring powerhouse of breathtaking power, fist-pumping anthem chorus that steals the stage anywhere it plays and a bold strut full of wonderful attitude. The "bravely be yourself and enjoy it, life's more fun that way" message of the song was always a matter of deep resonation that rang inside strongly, and Ola Salo channeled it fantastically. The way it all builds up from the slow start and keeps marching on until it explodes into a billion little colourful explosions of vocal harmonies and powerful melodies is fantastic. The version of the song on this single is the radio edit which does some tweaking and editing to the chorus (replacing the verbose first chorus with the title-repeating versions of the remainder of the song), which is hard to get used to now that I've heard the album version so much.

The b-side "The Homecomer" is a complete counterpoint to the lead song in the form of a warm, slow piano-driven mood moment. No more wild parades, but calmly returning home after many years spent far away, back to the loving smiles and embraces of a close family. It's beautiful and carries no particular flaws (Salo's vocal histrionics at the end are maybe a tad too much), and it's perhaps additionally resonant to the world-traveling Flint of the modern days who sometimes returns back to his original home after many, many moons of not seeing his family. It doesn't manage to even dream of reaching the a-side's spotlight, but then again, what could? It's still a wonderful song in its own right.

Physically: See above. Regret.

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