They say Mariah Carey sings notes only a dogcan hear. Well on this showing Justin Hawkinscould be having a few conversations with whales in thenear future. The falsetto shrieks are as piercing asever, and crucially, the songs are just as goodtoo.
The album title could almost be autobiographical,as it seemed not long ago that The Darkness wereheading for their own private hell, with no returnticket stub. Initial material for the second album wasfar from promising when given an outing live, thein-band ructions with then bassist FrankiePoullain refused to go away, and then there wasJustin’s more than recreational use of cocaine.
This gets tackled head on in the title track, withgreat success and humour, not least in the line “I’malways trying to keep my vices under wraps”. It’s aneffective way of making light of a heavy issue, atactic he uses elsewhere. For despite its pomp,glitter and obvious humour this album deals with somesurprisingly stark issues – drug addiction, baldnessand a hint of impotence. This takes place in thequaintly titled Knockers, Justin singing theunforgettable line, “you’re beautiful and busty, butI’m a little rusty”. Two of the three power balladspack quite a punch – Bald goes for the big, operaticgesture, while It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Timeis an introspective laced with regret and an overdonestring section. But since when were The Darkness aboutunderstatement?
One track is frankly bizarre, and that’s not evenHazel Eyes, where Scotch reel influences permeate tohugely enjoyable effect. Girlfriend seems a strangepiece of radio pop for the band to come out with, thevocals seemingly an octave too high and with a hugelyindulgent and rather unfortunate keyboard solo. Still,you allow them that when the whirligig English CountryGarden follows, a rollicking piano-led song with anoutrageous lyrical couplet or two.
Influences? They’ve had a few, and not just thepowdered variety. This album couldn’t have come aboutonce again without such rock monsters as Queen,Kiss and any other number of seventies glamoutfits. Bachmann-Turner Overdrive, too, whoseinfluence is more than evident in Is It Just Me?
But even if you have a problem with The Darkness, Idefy you not to enjoy this album. They have a soundthat is still instantly recognisable, and Justinretains his knack of coupling wonderfully Englishlyrics and observations with melodies of huge hitmaking potential. There’s plenty of room for them intoday’s pop climate.