Friday, March 04, 2011

I've had it with shame, I've had it with sorrow

There are, oh, a few dozen songs already released this year that I feel I need to cover at some point to give even a half-accurate impression of where I'm at with music in 2011. I've never been particularly timely with my coverage, but you may see a few more egregious examples pop up in the future (and it's only going to get worse--I'm still thinking about discussing not just my favorite singles from 2010 but also my favorites from 2009...because there's nothing more thrilling than reading some random person on the Internet's personal reactions to two year old songs you're tired of hearing discussed).

Breaking Up With God by theark

Case File #1 is the Ark's "Breaking Up With God." The bad news: it's one of the last songs we'll ever hear from the Swedish rock group--they're calling it quits after they finish promoting their greatest hits. The good news: it's their best single since State of the Ark's one-two punch of "One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young" and "Clamour For Glamour."

"Breaking Up With God" also pulls off the tricky feat of sounding thoroughly in keeping with the group's previous work while also filling a musical niche none of the Ark's previous singles did. It has the energy of the aforementioned State of the Ark singles, but it achieves the emotional release of earlier songs like "It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane" and "Calleth You Cometh I."

Unlike those songs, though, "Breaking Up With God" goes about creating that release through the closest the group has come to a party song. The cleverness and opaqueness of the Ark's lyrics means I've never really thought of them as band whose songs work in the "lost in the music" way associated with the best dance songs, though their work performs the traditional "rock outsider" role of creating a communal feeling that transforms even your bedroom into a packed gig full of people reveling to anthems.

While it has a high tempo and kicky beat, "Breaking Up With God" is clearly no dance song. It can be danced to, though, as lead singer Ola Salo proved in his characteristically flamboyant way at last week's Melodifestival semifinal (I hope this isn't the last we'll see of Ola as a recording artist, by the way--hard as it is to imagine him without the rest of the band, the world would miss the effortless charisma he gives off even when he seems half-bored). No, "Breaking Up With God" is definitely pop-rock, albeit with a sound that pays less clear homage to the '70s than some of the Ark's earlier work. That's "Breaking Up With God"'s second trick: while bearing guitar work and occasional vocal harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place in the '70s, more than anything it sounds timeless.

The best trick of all, though, is that previously mentioned sense of uplifting, lost-in-the-music release, the kind you never would have expected to find in a song that deals seriously with concerns about religion. How the Ark pull off comparing the Sword of Damocles to a cross and then singing "I heard the call, but I won't follow 'cause now I'm breaking up with God...and the Devil too" without seeming preachy or pretentious but instead like the best party band you've ever heard is something I'll never understand. "Breaking Up With God" is well-written in all areas--music, melody, and lyrics--and grand in smart ways, too, without dwelling on the grandness. In short, it's the epitome of everything I've ever loved about the Ark.

I have a history of overhyping songs released in the first quarter of the year and then considerably dialing back my opinion by December. Still, if there's been a better expression of synth-free pop-rock joy in the past five years, I can't think of it.

The Ark's greatest hits, Arkeology, can be purchased here (physical) and on iTunes internationally here. Alternatively, it's available at this digital music store that has no country restrictions.

(Photo credit to Sven Lindwall of Expressen.)


D'luv said...

Thank you so much for posting that Ark song! I'd all but forgotten about them... Really love this!!

Nick said...

I bet you knew that this would drag me out of the woodwork :)

What a beautiful write-up, and I'm so glad you're enjoying the song. As I've expressed many times before, it's such a loss that these guys are breaking up. They have influenced my life in so many ways.

Poster Girl said...

Robbie, I'm so glad to hear that! It's always great to have an artist suddenly pop back up on your radar that reminds you of why you liked them earlier.

Nick, that's kind of you to say! It really is a big loss--I don't think there's anyone in the world who can fill the vacancy they'll leave, a fact I felt particularly poignantly at their Melodifestival performance. Who is there with music like that and stage presence like that? No one, and I'll miss it.

Morgana Rayne said...

This song makes me feel as if teh Ark is channeling me. Its definitely the sound track to my life right about now.
I can't believe this is the end for the Ark, they are just so awesome.