Review Summary: It'll take more than a smile to convince fans with this one.
The expression “just good fun” is something which can irritate me in today’s world. It’s the sort of last resort, get out of jail free
term used to defend what you love when there isn’t much else to back up your sentiment, while the opposition tear into what are glaring flaws; smart-arsed terminology that alludes the defender into thinking they’ve had the final word, whilst completely killing the discussion in the process. It’s something that has been used frequently in recent years and the phrase has lost a lot of its meaning because of it. Back in the early 2000's, when The Darkness dropped their debut album, I’d have defined Permission to Land
as a masterclass in satire and respect to the classic-rock ethos, but it was also the very definition of “just good fun”. A record which presented its listener with a bloody good time of tongue-in-cheek humour and impressive musicianship to support it. And so, The Darkness have continued this trend ever since, never taking themselves seriously – but, the music and lyrics supporting this mentality has varied in quality over the years; a roller-coaster ride of genius moments and truly embarrassing ones. 2015’s Last of Our Kind
was a record that got the blueprint right, and was a pretty good return to form – not quite up there with the band’s first effort, but it delivered some really standout moments in song-writing and humour. But even with this success, I can never shake the feeling the band are winging it, blind-firing and hoping they hit the mark.
For a band like The Darkness, the utmost importance should be hooks; vocally, instrumentally, it should all be there. This is an aspect the band have been wrestling with for the last decade, even with the relative success of their last record. Pinewood Smile
falls prey to the same devilish flaws Hot Cakes
suffered. The album lacks character, cohesion and most importantly, hooks. There’s a couple of good moments here, but the problem lies in these moments being buried under a mountain of banality. Justin’s vocal work is as impressive as ever, but there is nothing particularly memorable to grab onto. The only track that really grabs you by the horns is “Buccaneers of Hispaniola”, for its brash bounce and memorable riffing and melody, everything else on here you’re left picking out the odd moment in tracks. “Southern Trains” has a relentless energy; its speed, powerful production, Black Sabbath inspired guitar hammer-on’s and accompanied solo make it a highlight to an extent, but then it is marred by Justin’s irritating vocals and lyrics; while the closing track “Stampede of Love” has a pretty humorous – Steel Panther-esque – lyrical concept over a pretty acoustic ballad, but its half-baked abruptness deflates any real potential to be had.
Once again, The Darkness bring themselves to the level of plain, vanilla song-writing, matched by a sorry lack of the flamboyancy you’ve come to expect from the band. Despite a few cool moments from the guitar work, everything else is drab. Their new drummer doesn’t do anything particularly engaging, just his job in holding the compositions together, and that best sums up this LP as a whole: these guys are more than able to bring a knock-out to the table, it’s just a question of how badly they want it. Relying on the battered crutch of a jaunty, energetic aesthetic just isn’t enough to deliver great music, there has to be something genuine underneath it all. Complacency is the order of the day here, and unfortunately, the results show as much.
FORMAT: DELUXE CD//C̶D̶//D̶I̶G̶I̶T̶A̶L̶//V̶I̶N̶Y̶L̶
PACKAGING: 6-PANEL DIGI-PAK.
SPECIAL EDTION: 4 bonus tracks are included in the deluxe package of the LP, but are just as dull as the album’s standard setlist. 2/5