Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crucified By An Army Of Lovers

During one of those late night ‘Rage’ watching sessions, that were more common in my younger days, I recall seeing a video clip for a song titled ‘Crucified’ by an artist calling themselves Army Of Lovers. It was late in 1991, or possibly early in 1992, but it was as if the spirit of ABBA had been channelled through a contemporary Euro-pop/dance act, with a passion for the decadent and risqué.

That hint of ABBA-esque style in the chorus for ‘Crucified’ wasn’t the only common ground Army Of Lovers shared with the 70s pop super-group. Army Of Lovers also hailed originally from Sweden, forming during 1987. The heart and mind behind the group was composer/producer Alexander Bard. Bard had emerged on the European music scene around five years previous, as a member of the short-lived trio Baard, whose biggest hit was ‘Life In A Goldfish Bowl’. At the height of the profligate 80s, Bard donned the frock, and in full drag garb unveiled his latest act Barbie (no relation to the plastic doll, or Aqua #1). Barbie had all the bases covered, with former hairdresser Jean-Pierre Barda (AKA Farouk), Yazmina Chantal, and model Camilla Henemark (AKA Katanga) rounding out their roster. Barbie gained quite a following and in 1987 morphed into Army Of Lovers, the new moniker taken in homage to the 1970s cult documentary film ‘Armee der Liebenden’ by director Rosa von Praunheim, recounting the tale of the Sacred Band of Thebes.

Like the Village People a decade earlier, Army Of Lovers treated costume and image as key elements to the band’s profile. Swedish fashion designer Camilla Thulin struck up a synergetic relationship with Army Of Lovers, and created outrageously ornate wardrobes, taking inspiration from religious, historical and mythical references. Lead vocalist Barda didn’t mind sporting a bit of controversy, wearing deliberately provocative, and at times revealing costumes, and Army Of Lovers played the campy, notorious angle for all it was worth, on stage and in promotional videos. Their debut single ‘When The Night Is Cold’, was released in 1988, but it was the follow up dance oriented ‘Love Me Like A Loaded Gun’ which attracted more attention on the club scene. The weapon motif was upgraded on the next single, 1989’s ‘Baby’s Got A Neutron Bomb’, whilst ‘Supernatural’ cast a spell on some European charts. All of the tracks were included on Army Of Lovers’ debut album ‘Disco Extravaganza’ in 1990, released as ‘Army Of Lovers’ for the U.S. market in 1991, which also spawned the group’s first top 10 hit at home with a remix of ‘Ride The Bullet’ (UK#67).

But it would be Army Of Lovers’ next single, 1991’s ‘Crucified’ which would prove to be the biggest of their career. The lavishly produced dance-pop opus spent several weeks atop the European charts during the second half of 1991, peaked at #47 in Britain, #58 in Australia, and proved a club favourite in the U.S., where it reached #6 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music chart. The song was equally notable for the luridly contentious music video, directed by Fredrik Boklund, which accompanied it. ‘Crucified’ featured on Army Of Lovers’ sophomore album ‘Massive Luxury Overdose’, produced by Anders Wollbeck. Basically the album titled captured, nay defined its own style and theme, from gaudy cover art, to lyrics, to arrangements and orchestration. During the recording of the album female vocalist Camilla Henemark (‘La Camilla’) left the fold, to be replaced by former model (& school teacher, though not at the same time) Michaela Dornonville De La Cour on several of the album’s tracks, but the switch over proved relatively seamless. From tongue in cheek blasphemy, to glossy retro sci-fi jaunts, all coated in generous layers of syrupy dance-pop sweetness, there wasn’t much Army Of Lovers didn’t dare to indulge in. The album also spawned another major dance hit with ‘Obsession’ (US#11 Hot Dance, UK#67, Sw#2, De#7), whilst in early ‘92 ‘Crucified’ was reissued for the British market, second time around peaking at #31.

Re-recorded versions of ‘Ride Like A Bullet’ and ‘Love Me Like A Loaded Gun’ kept Army Of Lovers firing on the charts throughout 1992, before ‘Judgement Day’ rounded out the year. As with any artist that achieved such a stellar breakthrough album, Army Of Lovers had to carefully consider the strategy for their next chart assault. They recorded the music for the film soundtrack ‘Ha Ett Underbart Liv’, then recruited a former phone sex operator, Dominika Peczynski, to their ranks for the 1993 album ‘The Gods Of Heaven And Earth’, featuring backing vocals from the Army Tabernacle Choir.

The lead out single ‘Israelism’ sparked controversy for its alleged mocking of certain aspects of the Jewish culture, but it couldn’t have been too impertinent, given that it hit #1 on the Israeli pop charts. The follow up singles ‘La Plage De Saint Tropez’ and ‘I Am’ couldn’t sustain the chart offensive for Army Of Lovers. 1994’s album ‘Glory Glamour And Gold’ yielded the top 20 dance hit ‘Sexual Revolution’, but that aside, didn’t result in much of the glory or gold side of things, though judging by the cover, Army Of Lovers continued to indulge in plenty of glamour, posed like 18th Century French aristocracy. It also marked the final album featuring Michaela De La Cour, and following her discharge from Army Of Lovers in 1995, original female vocalist La Camilla returned for another tour of duty - you getting tired of all these military references? Don’t worry, I’ll be on to the beverage puns for the next post.

Army Of Lovers released the mandatory greatest hits collection in 1996, titled ‘Les Greatest Hits’, and featuring a number of new tracks and remixes. ‘Give My Life’ returned Army Of Lovers to the Swedish top 10 for the fourth time (#6), and also proved popular on the U.S. club circuit. Bard then took the decision to confine Army Of Lovers to the barracks indefinitely, and in the void left he started a new band called Vacuum, who issued the album ‘Plutonium Cathedral’ in 1997. La Camilla released a solo album titled ‘Temper’ the same year, and turned to acting. In 2001 Army Of Lovers regrouped and released an album of new material titled ‘Le Grand Docu-Soap’, yielding a couple of Scandinavian hits in ‘Let The Sunshine In’ and ‘Hands Up’. Aside from a couple of ‘one off’ shows during 2007, Army Of Lovers have remained quiet on all fronts, including the western, and it appears that a substantive reunion in the future is unlikely.

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