Review Summary: A textbook example of both the sophomore slump and the "maturation album syndrome".
The sophomore slump: the phenomenon whereby a band fails to live up to their (usually genre-defining) debut album with their follow-up offering.
The “maturity album”: a phenomenon whereby a band seeks to expand on their established sound by experimenting with new influences and sounds, only to be poorly received by both the specialised press and their horrified fans.
Either of these two occurrences can swiftly and ruthlessly terminate a band’s career. On the rare occasions when they occur together
, however, chances of the group in question ever recovering from the impact decrease tenfold. And while some acts have been able to bounce back from this dreaded combination – more notably Slipknot -, nowhere are its effects more evident than on Suffolk rockers The Darkness’s second opus, One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back
Charged with the unenviable task of following up 2003’s near-perfect debut Permission To Land
, One Way Ticket
does what any younger sibling would do, and tries way too hard to surpass its predecessor. The result is an overreaching hodgepodge that sees The Darkness become firmly and irrevocably stuck in the chasm separating musical credibility from tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of their novelty-act status.
Take the musical side of this album, for example. In it, brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poulain and drummer Ed Graham make a conscious, declared effort at adding new layers to their sound, veering it away from early-80s hard rock cheese and instead harking back a few years to the heady days of Led Zeppelin and early AC/DC. Littered with keyboards and “weird” instruments such as sitars and bagpipes, the instrumentals on One Way Ticket...
seem poised to make The Darkness, if not the next big thing in prog-pomp rock, then at least an amusing modernized version of Styx – which, in and of itself, presents no problems, and could guarantee the group a nice little fan base.
But then the lyrics come in.
Simply put, if on Permission To Land
Justin Hawkins was being cheeky, here he is being positively obnoxious. His falsetto reaches new heights of ludicrousness, and, while it is thankfully contained for the best part of this album, it anything but counters the decidedly comical nature of his poems.
Now, humour in a The Darkness album is nothing new, as anyone who has listened to Permission To Land
will attest. The problem is that, while on that album the cheekiness felt natural and seemingly effortless, here it seems far too forced. Hawkins is like the unfunny “jokester” at a party, desperately trying to make his peers laugh through all manner of quasi-debasing antics. And, much like that person, he mostly fails at it; while one or two of his quips do manage to raise a chuckle (”you’re beautiful and busty/but I’m a little rusty/I’ve forgotten what to do”
), most elicit no more than a shrug or, at worst, a wince. The goofy, quasi-charming banter of Permission To Land
peers through here and there, but overall this album is less likely to impress the “birds” than to drive them away in fits of derisive laughter.
But of course, this would not be a problem if the songs were inspired. Sadly, aside from the occasional foot-tapping throwback to the first album, there is very little to be impressed by over the course of these ten tracks. Suffice it to say that, while One Way Ticket
’s running time is just as sparse as Permission To Land
’s, it feels twice as drawn out, due mostly to the fact that half of it is made up of snooze-inducing filler.
At its core, the song-writing formula for this album is simple: half the tracks are unsuccessful attempts at rewriting Permission To Land
’s Friday Night
, and the other half veer between ballads so sugary they would make Still Loving You
look macho and the odd rockin’ standout. As for the experimental vibe, it is mostly chucked after the opening cut, and only ever re-surfaces in mid-album standout Hazel Eyes
. For the rest of the running time, the “evolution” in the band’s sound is reduced to tame AOR keyboards, which generally do more harm than good. The overall result is likely to put anyone but the SUV-driving father of four to sleep, and certainly does not live up to the gushy hard rock excitement of the 2003 debut.
Which is not to say everything
’s bad. One Way Ticket
progresses from an unnecessarily trippy intro into what can best be described as a cross between AC/DC’s Highway To Hell
and QOTSA’s Little Sister
, with Justin Hawkins’s vocals delivering the unique manic touch the song needs to assert its identity. Almost immediately afterwards, Is It Just Me
brings us the best chorus in the album, rooted within a traditional boogie-rocker which once again highlights the group’s AC/DC influence.
Overall, and despite the dull Knockers
sneaking in between them, these two songs seem poised to usher in an album which can honourably square off to its predecessor. The impression, however, is short-lived. After Is It Just Me
, the record enters a wasteland of ideas, where the only oasis is found in the Celtic overtones of the hilarious Hazel Eyes
, for once an attempt at experimentation done right, and the peppy, tongue-in-cheek energy of Girlfriend
. Elsewhere, English Country Garden
also manages to raise half an eyebrow, but the positive effects of these three tracks are immediately undercut by the interminable, plodding Bald
– possibly the worst track in the band’s career - and the insufferable sappiness of Blind Man
and Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time
, making for a virtually unsalvageable latter half for this album.
In short, then, it is not hard to see why One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back
was the death knell for this band’s career. Even before internal turmoil caused The Darkness to implode, this album’s poor reception and obvious stylistic confusion had already helped peg the Suffolk four-piece as one-hit wonders (or, at best, one-album wonders), for whom I Believe In A Thing Called Love
will be the perennial claim to fame. Sad, really, but such is life...
One Way Ticket
Is It Just Me