The Internet gives instant and unprecedented access to the pop music of other nations without the firsthand experience that could make sense of it. Take the Ark, for example, whose second single, “It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane,” was Swedish radio’s most-played song of 2000. Other hits have followed, including 2002’s jaw-dropping “Father of a Son,” in which singer Ola Salo argues forthrightly that his gayness won’t impact his future parenting skills.
Salo and the Ark suggest Hedwig & the Angry Inch minus the botched sex change and unhappy ending. He’s got a quintessential American Idol voice, one that radiates self-assurance and technical mastery but without seemingly trying, and the same goes for his songwriting skills. The band’s third album, State of the Ark (now serving as the quintet’s U.S. debut), boasts classic rock riffage amid its art-pop filigree. Salo radiates the sincerity of genuine camp, but the Ark don’t play his songs as camp: Instead, they resemble a streamlined Queen backing a self-made male Kelly Clarkson with something to say. This they more or less are. The band’s fearlessness is particularly shocking because the Ark operate not in an indie world of diminished expectations and ambitions but in the same national mainstream that produced Max Martin. Many American cities don’t even have alternative rock or even real Top 40 radio anymore. Sweden has the Ark. It’s not fair.
The Ark plays the Bowery Ballroom June 28. www.boweryballroom.com