The Darkness

Permission to Land The Darkness - Permission to Land (Epic) 2003

1. Black Shuck (3:20)
2. Get Your Hands Off My Woman (2:46)
3. Growing on Me (3:29)
4. I Believe in a Thing Called Love ( 3:36)
5. Love Is Only a Feeling (4:19)
6. Givin' Up (3:34)
7. Stuck in a Rut (3:17)
8. Friday Night (2:56)
9. Love on the Rocks With No Ice (5:56)
10. Holding My Own (4:56)

The Darkness are one of those buzz bands that I had heard about long before I had actually heard. Well, I finally scored a copy of "Permission to Land" in a trade and to be quite honest, I like The Darkness. They are just good, fun rock'n roll. I have seen these guys labeled as an "80's throwback", but I can't believe anyone would label them as "80's" or call them "metal." Perhaps the spandex is a bit of metal fashion from the 80's, but the music is rooted in the 1970's, in my opinion. They have a retro 70's sound that reminded me a of old Sweet, Slade, and a bit of Queen as well. Justin Hawkins' over-the-top vocals are certainly the focal point of the band. I suppose most will either love him or hate him. Personally I like over-the-top, charismatic, stylized vocals. I tend to like bizarre vocals (Udo, Grave Digger, Nitro, etc.) that most people don't like. His shreaky, falsetto vocals work well in pop songs like "Black Shuck", "I Believe in a Think Called Love" and the "Givin' Up." As I said in the beginning of this review, these guys are fun. I would imagine that while they are hugely popular in Europe, they will have a harder time finding acceptance from metal and hard rock fans in the U.S. as most of the metal coming out of the U.S. is more concerned with brooding, hatred and anger than with having fun. When did rock music stop being fun? For that alone I will give the Darkness and extra star! Unfortunately some of the lyrics aren't so great. While songs like "I Believe in a Think Called Love" are fun and catchy, "Givin' Up" is an expletive filled song about heroin. (Hmmmm, you'd think people would learn from the past.)

One Way... The Darkness - One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back (Atlantic) 2005

1.     One Way Ticket (4:26)
2.     Knockers (2:43)
3.     Is It Just Me? (3:05)
4.     Dinner Lady Arm (3:16)
5.     Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (3:34)
6.     Hazel Eyes (3:25)
7.     Bald (5:31)
8.     Girlfriend (2:33)
9.     English Country Garden (3:06)
10.   Blind Man (3:25)

""One Way Ticket" is the second full-length album from British rockers The Darkness. As with the band's debut, "One Way Ticket" is packed full of edgy, undeniably hooky, hard rock. Once again I defy the "80s throwback" label thrown on The Darkness. Rather, The Darkness mix together a ton of 1970's influences. You'll hear bits of Queen, AC/DC, Meat Loaf, some Irish influences from Thin Lizzy, the hooks of The Sweet or Slade and the cheesiness of Spinal Tap. Considering the amount of 80's bands that borrowed from these bands, it's not a wonder why The Darkness are labeled and 80's throwback. Still, call it glam rock, hard rock or pop rock. The label isn't as important and the infectious nature of the music itself. It's rock and roll excess, complete with strings, brass, bagpipes, sitars, cowbells and even pan flutes. The record opens with an eccentric pan flute and keyboard melody before the opening chords of "One Way Ticket" kick you in the face. For the most part, however, it's just big guitar riffs and those vocals. Unlike "Permission to Land", the guitars have been scaled back a bit in favor of big vocals, vocal melodies and layered vocals. Justin Hawkin's vocals are absolutely ridiculous. However, it's that ridiculous, over-the-top nature of his vocals that gives the band charisma and character. It's not unlike how Freddie Mercury's golden pipes helped to give Queen their identity.

Speaking of Queen, "English Country Garden" and "Blind" are two of the most Queen influenced songs I have ever heard. In fact, after spinning the album a couple times I perused the booklet to see if Roy Thomas Baker might be the producer. In fact, he is! It's no wonder the Queen connection is so strong at points. However, that's not to say the entire album is Queen worship. Album opener "One Way Ticket" is an immediately like-able song with a big AC/DC-style riff. I sort of wish the song would have had a ripping guitar solo rather than a sitar solo, but then a sitar solo is just part of the excess of the whole thing. Songs like "Hazel Eyes" and "Girlfriend" are brilliantly catchy thanks to Justin's helium ingested vocals and Dan Hawkins crunchy rhythms and riffs.

Barebacksides The Darkness - Barebacksides (bootleg) 2011

1.   Best of Me (3:27)
2.   Street Spirit (Fade Out) (2:58)
3.   How Dare You Call This Love? (3:52)
4.   Bareback (3:07)
5.   Makin' Out (3:42)
6.   Physical Sex (3:32)
7.   Out of My Hands (3:29)
8.   Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End) (3:32)
9.   I Love You 5 Times (3:43)
10. Planning Permission (2:30)
11. Curse of the Tullond Man (3:08)
12. Grief Hammer (3:05)
13. Wanker (2:58)
14. Shit Ghost (3:10)
15. Shake (Like a Lettuce Leaf) (3:18)

"Barebacksides" is a bootleg compilation that features a ton of b-side tracks from the Suffolk glam metal rockers. All the songs were recorded between 2002 and 2005. It's hard to believe that there is this much b-side material from this band from a span of three years. Obviously the title is a clever play on words from the song "Bareback". Obviously with a compilation of this nature, there is a some filler and fluff material. With songs like "Wanker" and "Shit Ghost" there are songs on here that are meant to be nothing more than jokes, however even these songs are musically pretty interesting. Other songs like "Street Spirit", "Bareback" and "Best of Me" could easily have been album tracks. In fact "Bareback" is one of the finest AC/DC songs that AC/DC never recorded. The song sports one of those heavy Angus riffs. "I Love You 5 Times" is a superb power ballad. A standout track for me is the Christmas song "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)", a song that I play regularly around the holidays. 

Hot Cakes The Darkness - Hot Cakes (Wind-Up Records) 2012

1. Every Inch Of You (3:04)
2. Nothin's Gonna Stop Us (2:45)
3. With A Woman (3:41)
4. Keep Me Hangin' On (3:00)
5. Living Each Day Blind (5:06)
6. Everybody Have A Good Time (4:48)
7. She Just A Girl, Eddie (3:46)
8. Forbidden Love (3:49)
9. Concrete (3:52)
10. Street Spirit (Fade Out) (3:07)
11. Love Is Not The Answer (3:41)

The Darkness have been on hiatus for several years. First they departed ways with original bassist  Frankie Poullain during the recording process of "One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back". Then in 2006 lead singer Justin Hawkins entered rehab for alcohol and cocaine abuse. Later that year Hawkins announced he was leaving the band, which essentially was the end of The Darkness as it was his exuberant stage persona, odd sense of humor and operatic voice that helped defined the band. In 2011 it was announced that all four original members of the Darkness, including lead singer Hawkins and bassist Poullain, had reunited and would record a new album. "Hot Cakes" is the fruit of that reunion. 

The album cover is over-the-top sticky-sweet and is an indication of the music contained herein. The Darkness have always teetered between the clichés of 80's heavy metal and the power of 70's hard rock bands like Thin Lizzy, Queen and AC/DC. However, they are also a pop band capable of delivering super catchy, expertly crafted, radio-ready singles. The balance between all these things is what I found so compelling about the band's first two albums. "Hot Cakes" is no different. You get the low-down and gritty AC/DC style riffs with the slick, sugar-coated melodies throughout. From the incredibly sexist and hedonistic album opener right through the passionate album closer "Love Is Not the Answer", the album is chock full of it. "With A Woman" kicks off with one of those head-banging AC/DC-inspired riffs. Tracks like the fist-pumping "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us" and the infectious "Everybody Have a Good Time" are mega-catchy anthems. 

As would be expected Justin's vocals are a big part of The Darkness' sound. While he does sing in that super-high falsetto style throughout much of the album, he also sings with a more mid-range, chest voice more than in the past. While he is usually compared to Freddie Mercury, and I do hear that influences as well, there is also a bit of Jeff Lynne (ELO) and even Jim Gillette of Nitro from time to time. 

Whereas the first two records captured my attention immediately, "Hot Cakes" took a couple spins to really begin to appreciate it. However, once I did it was stuck in my CD player for weeks on end. 

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