There are a lot of reasons that pop music is delightful, chief among them the ephemeral pleasures of instant gratification; Swedish glam-rock act The Ark peddle this sort of feeling like crack, writing direct, hook-heavy, sugar-rush power pop that sticks in the craw and stays. Splitting up after more or less ruling their homeland for the past decade, The Ark have bestowed upon fans and neophytes alike [amazon-product text=”Arkeology: Complete Singles Collection” tracking_id=”popblerdcom-20″ type=”text”]B004WLUJ6I[/amazon-product], a career-spanning platter of The Ark’s giddiest, most addictive singles in all their bombastic glory. Fans know the story; newbies should listen up, because while we may not hear from The Ark ever again, these nuggets will become iPod go-tos and party staples real soon, and Arkeology perfectly illustrates why there’s no reason you shouldn’t have been listening all along.
Of course, The Ark know why you may not have been. It’s not just the relatively scarce market for Swedish retro-pop over here, although that’s undoubtedly part of it – in the band’s biggest hit, “It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane” (apparently a Gaga-sized pop behemoth in its native land), Ola Salo takes social conservatism to task, making a literate and exceptionally convincing case for the cathartic release of performance, flamboyance, and enthusiasm. “So take it to the stage in a multicolored jacket,” he exhorts, “take it crackpot, jackpot, strutting like a peacock.” Elsewhere on the track – ironically one of this band’s more subdued works – he astutely observes that people bored by life and derisive of performance are “afraid to feel ashamed, to feel strange, to seem insane, to gain weight, to seem gay.” Resonant words, especially in a world where a New Jersey music reviewer’s pitch-perfect Mika performance at karaoke elicits gay panic and derisive snickers from rednecks.
But such is The Ark. The music is pure candy, pop treats as gratifying as a particularly decadent piece of chocolate; the lyrics, often astonishingly astute and relevant without being treacly or preachy. Openly gay Ark frontman Ola Salo tears into “Father Of A Son” with abandon, but the gay-adoption rant is never angry; rather, Salo lords social progress over naysayers by pointing out its inevitability, by systematically (and humorously!) dismantling preconceptions and contrarian arguments, by strutting his way through his defense with utter confidence. The track is fast and ebullient, celebratory, wonderful. Meanwhile, “Calleth You, Cometh I” tears through the age-old issue of romantic recidivism with a soaring hook; “Absolutely No Decorum” hurls its invective with glee and sass; and “Tell Me This Night Is Over”, as if to say “we truly are connoisseurs of excess and pomp,” sweetens the ballad’s pot with a big gospel choir.
Minor issues abound, of course – this being a strict singles collection, there are inevitable tweaks that would make Arkeology a little more definitive. The closest thing that this band has to a stateside breakthrough, 2006’s State of the Ark, is represented ably – “One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young” works as a terrific, Cheap Trick-class pop romp, and “Clamor For Glamour” is one of the band’s basest, thrillingly exuberant singles – but the “singles” designation foregoes excellent album cuts like that album’s salacious “The Others” and, particularly, the perfect, 80’s-challenging “Hey Kwanongoma!”, this band’s best-ever moment on wax and an indispensable resource in Ark education. And hey, this is an unabashedly corny band, so when they drop a clunky metaphor like the central conceit of “Trust Is Shareware”, it can elicit an eye-roll before the hips start to undulate. Despite the misgivings, while everyone hates the “buy this album for the two new tracks!” concept that has accompanied every retrospective of all time, The Ark have at least chosen to record two terrific new tracks as bookenders: “Breaking Up With God”, in particular, is such a glorious track that you’ll swear, a minute into its runtime, that you’ve known it all your life, and “The Apocalypse Is Over” is a fittingly grandiose curtain call, playing into every last one of the band’s myriad strengths.
Point is, any listener who has even the slightest amount of Mika, The Darkness, or Scissor Sisters on their iPod positively NEEDS Arkeology. The Ark has laid far too much wonderful AM-radio power-pop onto wax to go unheard, and anyone still mourning the passing of Freddie Mercury (of whom Salo is an obvious heir apparent) or pining for Bowie’s glory days can find a lot of catharsis in their discography. Arkeology proves a fitting testament, and a sprawling document of a remarkably consistent band’s best moments.