I am proud to say that I decided to listen to the Ark’s U.S. debut for reasons other than the incessant attempts by their publicity machine to make the world aware of its release. I listened in spite of the sticker adorning the CD that quotes Spin magazine as (unemphatically) saying the album has “at least as many melodies as the Darkness‘ latest.” I listened because, as the Ark was inhabiting the eye of a media cyclone only Texas could foster — South By Southwest — I had lunch next to the band’s affable guitar tech. And he asked me if I knew where to score some weed. Ah, a bit of humility amongst all the posturing, I thought. I should have known his sincerity was the antithesis to the Ark’s campy masquerade.
Hailed as the new Queen by respected news outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, the members of the Swedish band have apparently made it their mission to convince us they were raised exclusively on KISS, the Doors and “early Roxy Music.” They didn’t get it completely wrong on State of the Ark. The album’s producers — Jens Andersson, Nathan Larson, Per Sunding, and the band’s lead singer, Ola Salo — have done an admirable job of evoking Electric Light Orchestra mastermind Jeff Lynne’s trademark sound. From the decidedly digitized drumming on “Let Me Down Gently” (a la ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”) to the handclaps on the jittery intro of “Rock City Wankers,” the production team has polished the Ark’s turds quite nicely.
But lavish production can only go so far in disguising the Ark’s overt and tiresome Duran Duran worship. Whereas Lynne created complex and interesting melodies, Simon LeBon (and the Ark) seem content to find a hook and beat the listener over the head with it. “Girls on Film” anyone? And with lyrics like “Pilgrims of sleaze and nocturnal pancake/ Are you a poet, electric junkie?/ Or are you just a another [sic] little rock city wankie?” in a song immediately following “This Piece of Poetry Is Meant to Do Harm,” it makes you wonder how to say “ironic” in Swedish. The band also loses points for misspelling Vicodin in the liner notes. Who’s the “wankie” now?
My love of tube amplifiers may skew my perceptions slightly, but the guitar tones on State of the Ark are abrasive and unnatural. Although computers have done wonders in making all of the orchestrations on the album possible, the band’s and/or producers’ decision to use a direct box and Line 6-based simulations is a poor one. Although the members of the Ark certainly aren’t throwback artists like their touring brethren, the Darkness, they are still firmly entrenched in the guitar-rock genre. “Clamour for Glamour’s” hard-panned interplay between two similar riffs is nullified thanks to overlapping frequencies, and apparently the timbre-troubled introduction of “The Other” was something not even ProTools’ pitch correction could remedy.
State of the Ark‘s tiresome 1980s insipidity is punctuated only by those curious moments that sound like mistakes, outtakes or bad decisions. Overambitious would be an understatement. And, if you’re curious, no, I couldn’t help my new friend out with any Cannabis sativa. Have you ever seen a Texas jail? Thankfully, me neither.
Band (audio clips): http://www.thearkworld.com/