The Darkness. Amusing comedy rockers or furrow-browed, misunderstood saviours of ‘our kind of music’ standing tall in a world of post-modern indifference, living or dying by the sharpness of their tongues and the raw-powered bludgeon of their axes?
If you read their press releases recently, you’d definitely believe the latter. But one look at the hilarious video for opening track Rock and Roll Deserves to Die, wherein the band finish up buck naked in front of an exclusive-looking audience, toupees blown to the four corners of the earth, you’ll be content to accept that first descriptor.
So where does the truth lie with Lowestoft’s finest?
Still, after nearly twenty years, it’s almost impossible to tell. That opening track, silly vid aside, actually fuses Led Zeppelin and seventies Judas Priest in the sort of bombastic fashion you’d expect from a combination of those two names. It’s highly assured, beautifully executed, the work of people who remain at the top of their game despite years of exposure to the silliness and excess of ‘the business’. Second track How Can I Lose Your Love is a sunny piece of power pop, again delivered beautifully, with the sort of confidence only the truly gifted can muster.
Next up is Live ‘Til I Die which is, perhaps, The Darkness in microcosm. On the face of it another throwaway pop rocker transplanted from the late eighties, the lyric belies an, erm, darkness dressed up in clever wordplay and world-weary humour. ‘I became the subject of a campaign of ridicule’ croons Justin Hawkins on the subject of his schooldays, the redemption being of course that those cruel souls are all still stacking shelves in Lidl whilst he strolls as a colossus across the rock world; ‘I’ll stick to my guns, rise above the laughter of the ignorant ones’. It’s this fusing of intelligent wordplay to on-the-face-of-it-simple pop that’s always been at the heart of the band’s best work, and Live ‘Til I Die is a deceptively simple example of this at it’s best.
Big power ballad Heart Explodes is The Darkness at the other end of their own particular spectrum; A no-side, straight up barnstorming radio rocker; again, the lyrics engage, but you really don’t need to pay much attention to them if you don’t want to; it’s just as easy simply to lose yourself in the sumptuous arrangement and top drawer performances. As a hark bark to the band’s halcyon early noughties heyday it’s an unmitigated success, but it works equally on it’s own terms simply as a wonderful piece of emotionally charged songsmithery.
The whistful Deckchair drifts by in a reverie of jazzy guitars and muted tones; it’s the sort of tune you can imagine Queen making in their late seventies pomp, a track that should by rights be dismissed as filler yet, miraculously becomes a firm fan favourite as the years turn. And Justin Hawkins’ Jeff Beck inspired solo on the track is one of the high points of the entire album.
The title track comes next, a full on piece of heavy metal thunder that delivers with twice the impact after the woozy reverie of Deckchair. This is Dan Hawkins‘ domain; riffy, heads down no nonsense (but not mindless) boogie of the highest order, topped off by Justin’s death-defying helium-fuelled soprano. Old school heavy metal at it’s finest.
Talking of heavy metal, next track Heavy Metal Lover is perhaps the album’s weak point, even if the band do slip in sly references to Obituary and Cannibal Corpse into the lyrics. Again taking it’s cues from late seventies power pop (it’s actually more via The Knack than any metal band from the time you’d care to bring up), the sledgehammer wit employed here just doesn’t quite convince as much as the cleverer devices deployed elsewhere. However you’ll never be able to watch anybody carving meat in the same light ever again…
In Another Life is another superb power ballad, nothing more nothing less, and features one of Justin Hawkins’ trademark solos which will, without any shadow of a doubt, have the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention the first time you hear it. The spiky Choke On It follows on, all angular psychosis and the sort of lyrical cleverness that all the best Darkness songs possess. It’s also the comedic peak of the album, wherein Hawkins morphs midway through the song into Liam Gallagher in hilarious fashion.
Album closer We Are The Guitar Men rounds things up in upbeat fashion, a paean to the redemptive power of rock n’roll in general and the six strings that power it in particular. ‘Give me a guitar, the extension of my soul’ croons our hero before embarking on a truly epic lead break; you know he’s sincere, and the magical quality of the music surrounding the lyrical tribute again causes the heart to swell. It’s incredibly inspiring stuff, and, if as those pesky press releases I mentioned earlier are to be believed, this is the last ‘proper’ album release by The Darkness, then this is the perfect way to finish.
By some way their best work, if not since their fabled debut, then certainly since 2005’s One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back, Easter is Cancelled is one of 2019’s must-have albums for heavy rock fans of all persuasions.
Easter is Cancelled is out on October 4th.