The Darkness could have been consigned to history. A question on a future pop quiz, a talking point for the worst kind of talking heads on the worst kind of talking head shows. But they’re back and, improbably, they’ve once again made a brilliantly over the top record.
It starts with Every Inch Of You, a song that could easily be sub-titled The Ballad Of The Darkness. Its opening verse is a summation of the band’s career to this point. The dizzying highs, the crashing lows and the farcical falsetto – could anyone else in the 21st century but Justin Hawkins really screech “and every man, woman and child wants to suck my cock” and get away with it?
This is The Darkness back to the formula that made their first record fly off the shelves – there’s a Kenneth Williams raised eyebrow at work with the kind of guitar attack that last truly ruled the charts in the 70s. Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Status Quo and Queen are the faces carved into the mountain here, staring down beneficently as Hawkins returns to rock after a few years barely rolling.
If the opener is The Darkness exorcising their past failures, Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us is the primary coloured manifesto for their second act. Massive guitars and the kind of relentless and shameless crowd-pleasing positivism that last turned up when Freddie Mercury wasn’t just a retro touchstone on a giant screen. Everybody Have A Good Time begins with moves straight out of the AC/DC playbook and with a chorus so simple you could teach it to the cast of The Only Way Is Essex, it’s clearly one of those tunes built for the stadium sing alongs that The Darkness are clearly dreaming of once more.
Hawkins has retained his characteristically barking approach to lyrics too with lines like “I love you so much / like the rabbit loves its hutch” popping through the noise on Keep Me Hangin’ On, a stomp with guitars that make Slash‘s axe work on November Rain sound understated.
The Darkness aren’t a comedy band but just as Status Quo come off a little odd when they try to play it deadly straight, the truly heartfelt Hawkins isn’t quite as fun. Livin’ Each Day Blind feels like a lyrical nod to the band’s hard times, but with its acoustic guitar breakdowns and slightly needy vocals it’s one of the albums least successful numbers. A later track, Forbidden Love, gets stuck in the same soft rock cul-de-sac.
The record closes with Love Is Not The Answer, an appropriately over the top ending to a record that rarely turns down the dial to less than ridiculous. The sense of humour and ability to embrace the outrageous elements of rock was what got The Darkness fame, it’s just after a while we all got a little worn out by it. But in a time of depression and darkness, a bit of glam could be the perfect prescription.
There is something about The Darkness that recalls Bill Nighy’s character in Love Actually, the washed up rocker Billy Mack, pushing a new single in the hope of a revival. He asks: “wouldn’t it be great if Number One wasn’t some smug teenager but an old, ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price?” The Darkness liked different drugs but you can’t help hoping that Hot Cakes does sell like them. And yes, we know they were dying for people to make that pun.