Ah, The Darkness. What’ve these operatic, flamboyant lads been up to since their 2003 debut Permission to Land
conquered the world? Well, changing their lineup for one thing. During May of 2005 founding bassist Frankie Poullain left the band due to “musical differences" (Poullain disputed this version of the events, claiming that he was “frozen out" of the bands’ decision making). In June of 2005, Richie Edwards, former guitar technician to rhythm guitarist Dan Hawkins, was announced as Poullain’s replacement. However, due to the relatively late addition of Edwards to the band, he really had no effect on the songwriting for the album (contrary to semi-popular belief). The person most responsible for The Darkness’ ambitious new goals was producer Roy Thomas Barker, most notable for his work with Queen
. With Barker at the helm, vocalist Justin Hawkins’ Freddie Mercury aspirations hit dizzying new heights. In addition to this, The Darkness also chose to experiment with new instruments including: sitar, Hammond Organ, triangle, tubular bells, as well as a variety of synthesizers.
Naturally, this led to an eclectic mix of new options for The Darkness to explore. Unfortunately, this might not have worked out in their best interests. One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back
is a good album. It nails everything you loved about The Darkness before, and expands outward from their. However, many of these expansions just don’t quite mesh with the hard rock that The Darkness play. Take the title track for instance: “One Way Ticket" is a great song. Starting with the sounds of a person snorting cocaine, it accents the anti-drug message of the song on the whole. Great lyrics and hard guitars come next. Even the chorus is catchy. However, just when you feel the song needs a lightning speed, rocking guitar solo, “One Way Ticket" throws you a curve ball: a sitar solo. While it’s certainly different, it just doesn’t sync too well with the song. It’s a minor quibble, and if you look past it, you’ll find that “One Way Ticket" is a fun song, and a perfect way to open an album.
“Knockers" is probably one of the weakest songs on the album. I can remember my first impressions when I first heard this song upon my purchase of this album. They went something like: “Damn, I can’t believe I just spend $12.99 on this." ‘Is It Just Me?" doesn’t do much to alleviate such thoughts. Both songs are rather boring, and uninspired. The low points of One Way Ticket
to be sure. Of course, this means it can only go up from here, right? Yes, and it goes up very high. “Dinner Lady Arms" is one of the best songs on the album. From the fantastic intro to the great lyrics, “Dinner Lady Arms" represents how well The Darkness can write songs, just as its direct predecessors represent how poorly than can. ‘Dinner Lady Arms" leads into the first “ballad" of One Way Ticket
, the mournful, regretful, and (slightly) boring “Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time." Slower and less poppy than the former songs, “Seemed" is a great change of pace for One Way Ticket
. Its highlight would have to be the fantastic breakdown. Excellent guitar work right there.
Ah, the climax of One Way Ticket
is upon us: “Hazel Eyes." This is by far the pinnacle of the album. “Hazel Eyes" has all the right ingredients: the vocals, the music, the lyrics. Everything just comes together in perfect synergy. Aside from that, it’s also one of the funnier songs on the album. Next up, we have the comical “Bald." This hard rocker is as simple as it sounds: it’s a song about male-pattern baldness (which hereditarily afflicts Darkness front man Justin Hawkins [as well as his brother, Dan, who doesn‘t bitch about it all over the media]). “Girlfriend" is another one of the comedy songs. Hawkins’ voice reaches incredible new heights on this one. He wants to be the 21st Century Freddie Mercury, and he may not have much competition after recording this song (and consequently making it One Way Ticket
’s third single).
The nonsensical “English Country Garden" continues the nonsensical Queen-esque notions of The Darkness. At first, I wasn’t impressed by this song, but I allowed it to slowly grow on me. Everything from the soaring vocals, to the (somewhat vulgar) lyrics, to the excellent instrumentation make this one of the stand-out tracks from One Way Ticket
. So, how does The Darkness’ sophomore release finish up? With a bang? Or a soft note, much like its older sibling, Permission To Land
? Definitely a soft note. “Blind Man" really isn’t that good of a song, though. It’s boring and tries too hard to be emotional. A disappointing end to a fair album.
One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back
is not another Permission to Land
. For one thing, it isn’t even remotely as good. It fails in too many new areas, while it succeeds in too few. The Darkness need to stop screwing around with new instruments and techniques and get back to what they do best: making great hard rock. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t attempt to evolve into something new, it just means that they need to take a page from the hair metal icons of the 80s, rather than the progressive bands. It all comes down to a very simple (yet aptly appropriate in so many cases) phrase: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it." Well, it wasn’t broken, Darkness, but now you should fix it.