Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 69)
Post-Strokes, Post-Libertines, the “New Rock Revolution” was beginning to creep its way through the UK. From the worthy Strokes, White Stripes, Libertines, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the wholly unworthy Vines and Datsuns, the UK was gripped by prim and proper white folk down-strumming the hell out of their guitars and blurring the line between barking and singing. During this time, The Darkness swiped the absolute most un-cool influences it could - late-70’s hard rock, British metal, prog rock - and, befitting history, vastly outsold their leather jacket clad rivals with their debut record, 2003’s Permission to Land
As rock became less of a mainstream force during the 2000’s a crop of bands eager to seize upon those nostalgic for the days when it was appeared. Groups like Buckcherry, Audioslave, Hinder, and Velvet Revolver spent the 00’s recycling the most ridiculous and stupid aspects of late 70s, 80s hard rock without an ounce of self-awareness and, thus, they are insufferable. The Darkness, for the most part, do the same. They knick the flying-V guitar solos, show-off vocals, overwrought language, and loud costumes but they acknowledge how dumb all these things are. Like This is Spinal Tap
cranking amps up to 11 and lowering an 18-inch Stonehenge onto the stage, by highlighting these ridiculous aspects of hard rock The Darkness undermine them. Even better, they also jump into these cliches with such zeal that they reanimate them in the process, creating this unique zone where you can laugh at and genuinely enjoy these hard rock tropes at the same time.
Furthermore, they don’t just reupholster many rock ‘n’ roll touchstones but The Darkness even go as far to clean up some of the genre’s more loathsome traits. As wild as Permission to Land
can get it’s never indulgent. Permission to Land
runs a brisk 38 minutes in 10 tracks and, except for “Love on the Rocks with No Ice” which doesn’t quite deserve its 6 minute runtime, every song here is quick, efficient, and memorable. Best of all the macho posing and token misogyny that run rampant through hard rock and metal are all but erased. Despite what the title may suggest, “Get Your Hands off of My Woman” leads the first chorus with lead singer Justin Hawkins declaring “I’ve no right to lay claim to her frame/She’s not my possession”. Aside from being, if not outright feminist, undeniably progressive it doubles as one of the songs best hooks.
Plus, it’s difficult to be sexist when you’re shrieking the chorus of “Get your hands off of my woman mother***er!” in a foppish falsetto. While The Darkness is made up of three other men approximating their influences with a professional accuracy Justin Hawkins projects such a massive amount of personality through his vocals that they are completely overshadowed. The obvious comparison is Freddie Mercury but the correct one is Brad Delp. Like Delp, Hawkins is someone very much in love with how high he can sing and proceeds to test the limits of his range at every possible moment. He shrieks, squeaks, and squawks his way through every song here even nearing the whistle register on “Stuck in a Rut”. It’s great to listen to someone sing like he truly loves singing and his songwriting skills are sharp enough to ensure the vocal pyrotechnics remain in service to the songs and not the other way around.
Rampant falsettory aside, Permission to Land
also undermines hard rock’s typical knuckle-dragging through its lyrics. Lines like “banish you from whence you came”, “An assault my defences systematically failed to withstand”, and “Propelled by a carriage of aluminium am I” label this less as music for quarterbacks to listen to in their El-Caminos and more music to play Dungeons and Dragons to and Hawkins sings opener “Black Shuck” like a particularly skilled dungeon master, “Flames licked round the sacred spire/And the congregation's last line of defense/Was engulfed in fire/As the flaming priest stepped into the firing line”.
As enjoyable as all of this is it would all be for novelty if the songwriting wasn’t there. Thankfully it is. Permission to Land
constructs all of its surface pleasures on top of a bed of perfect songcraft. “Friday Night” builds upon its glam rock and power-pop influences with a charming lyrical concept that incorporates a semesters worth of extra-curricular activities before climaxing with an ecstatic “Dancing on a Friday night!” while “Giving Up” is possibly the funniest song every written about heroin addiction. And the hooks. My god. The hooks on this thing
. Every song here has an amazingly strong chorus that clings to the folds of your brain with forceful, robust melodies. When Hawkins really goes for a big hook - most exemplary on “Growing on Me” and “Love is Only a Feeling” - you are powerless to resist.
Upon release Permission to Land
sold like gangbusters but critical reception went one of three ways: dismissively negative, cautiously positive, or defensively positive. It makes sense, this album comes across as so eager, so genuine, and so excited that to stand beside it means risking embarrassment. Certainly something this frivolous could never stand the test of time right? Well over a decade later Permission to Land
has done just that, it is a near flawless tribute to and update of canon-rock. Personally, I’m not just thrilled I own an album that opens with a song about a one-eyed dog that slays nuns, closes with a power-ballad about jerking off, I don’t know how I ever lived without it.