Review Summary: Six years later, The Darkness exhaust their One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back and once again ask for Permission To Land. They come in peace...and they bring Hot Cakes.
With the release of their 2003 debut, Permission To Land
, Suffolk pomp-rockers The Darkness seemed poised to make or break their career. The overwhelming ubiquity of lead single I Believe In A Thing Called Love
may have helped the sales of what was one of the best debuts in recent memory, but it also, inevitably, relegated the band to the status of novelty one-hit wonder, which was scarcely what the Hawkins brothers had in mind.
Unfortunately, the conscious attempt at maturity that was One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back
, released two years later, proved to be a shot in the foot for the band. The cheeky spark of the debut seemed all but gone, leaving what was basically a satire of 70s cheese-prog, with the odd above-average moment interspersed throughout. The magnitude of the flop eventually proved too colossal for the band to overcome, and The Darkness imploded. Flamboyant frontman Justin Hawkins entered rehab for cocaine and alcohol, and later formed Hot Leg with his brother, while the less notorious part of the band went on to form the snooze-inducing Stone Gods, which suffered heavily from Hawkins withdrawal syndrome. It seemed all over, and The Darkness seemed destined to be just another footnote in the history of the 21st century rock revival.
Except it was not
all over. It may have taken six years for all the wounds to heal, but The Darkness are, indeed, alive and kicking - and with all their original members, to boot. And even a casual spin of the group's hilariously titled new album, Hot Cakes
, is enough to convince listeners that the Lowestoft quartet still has a place in the modern rock'n'roll scene.
Right from the off, it is evident that The Darkness have not changed. There may be the odd grey hair and hint at musical maturity here and there, but Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poulain and Ed Graham do not fall into the trap of trying to make another One Way Ticket
. Instead, they take a step back, and make what appears to be a conscious effort at writing another Permission To Land
, with just a few hints of their sophomore effort sprinkled throughout. Most of the songs on Hot Cakes
bring to mind their counterparts from the debut album, and there is even a ballad placed in the exact same position - the fifth track - on both opuses. Of course, these differences may have been unintentional, but one can hardly shake the feeling that the foursome are trying to apologise for their mis-step seven years ago. If that is the case, apology accepted! Hot Cakes
stands head and shoulders above its dismal predecessor (not that that was hard) and very nearly manages to knock Permission To Land
off its perch, being no more than a couple of filler songs away from its goal.
As soon as Every Inch (Of You)
struts in with its bluesy swagger and autobiographical lyrics, sounding like something AC/DC might have written in 1978, the listener prepares for a hell of a ride. The following two songs, however, almost manage to dispel such a notion, indicating a turn towards the bland mediocrity of Ticket
. And while neither Nothing's Gonna Stop Us
nor With A Woman
is outright bad, both are extremely frustrating, as they seem to show an inability to recapture the sense of catchiness that permeated the best moments of Permission To Land
. The latter, in particular, wastes a huge intro riff with an unremarkable and unmemorable chorus, giving ample reasons to fear for the worst.
Fortunately, such fears are instantly dispelled with the arrival of the group's best song since Givin' Up
. Keep Me Hangin' On
is as close to the perfect hard'n'heavty song as you will get in 2012, with its stomping riff (reminiscent of Judas Priest's Metal God
) and instantly catchy chorus. From here, the quality seldom dips, taking the listener on that rollicking ride the opening track had promised, and which seemed all but gone.
And, like any rollercoaster ride, this one has its highs, its lows, its straights, and its fair share of variety. Everybody Have A Good Time
finally validates the AC/DC comparisons the group has been receiving since 2003, while Forbidden Love
is an 80's AOR delight, complete with a generous topping of cheese, for good measure. At the other end of the spectrum, the plodding Street Spirit (Fade Out)
proves that not even The Darkness can make a Radiohead song entertaining. In between these highs and lows, cuts like Living Each Day Blind, She's Just A Girl, Eddie, Love Is Not The Answer
or the unremarkable but listenable Concrete
provide adequate back-up, ensuring this album's quality has very few relapses after those initial cuts. The final product, while still a notch short of the stellar Permission
, still makes for one of the best listens classic rockers can have this year. Welcome back, lads - and stick around this time.
was also released as a Special Edition with four bonus tracks - three new cuts and an acoustic version of Love is Not The Answer
. These tracks complement the main album nicely, and would not have been amiss on the actual tracklist - even yielding another standout in the irrepressible Cannonball
, complete with Tull-esque flute solo. Fans will be equally well off with either version.)
Every Inch (Of You)
Keep Me Hangin' On
Everybody Have A Good Time
Cannonball (Special Edition)