I cannot begin to count the amount of people in my hometown (nay, around the globe) who seem to have some kind of personal vendetta against THE DARKNESS. No doubt, the catalyst for their frothing hatred is singer Justin Hawkins, a man who prefers his spandex tight, his vocals roughly in between the hearing range of a dog and a bat and his giant suspended couches to be shaped like a pair of breasts. He is a frontman from another era, an era in which such extravagances were considered the rule rather than the exception.
…Okay, maybe not the Cleavage Couch.
The thing is, I really appreciate that Hawkins has the guts to even attempt a revival of the pomp of the seventies and eighties. THE DARKNESS is by no means an untalented band; guitar (and keytar!) solos abound on both of their albums and Hawkins himself hits notes that haven’t been heard since the unfortunate passing of QUEEN’s Freddie Mercury. This is probably what frustrates me the most about all the negativity concerning THE DARKNESS; in light of the fact that they’re likely the most talented Top 20 band out there, much of the criticism I hear seems quite unfounded.
To me, THE DARKNESS’s debut, “Permission To Land” (2003), was a near-flawless record. Against all odds, the raw and heavy AC/DC riffing dovetailed perfectly with the piercing, QUEEN-esque vocals, creating some truly wonderful songs. The band’s sophomore effort, “One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back”, attempts to go above and beyond its predecessor in terms of multi-layered choruses, string arrangements and double entendres, but for some reason it lacks much of the charm and instant infectiousness of “Permission”.
The album starts out with an amusing panpipe solo before launching into the semi-title track (and premier single) “One Way Ticket”. Obviously meant to be the band’s next “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, “One Way Ticket” packs powerful riffing in with a fairly catchy chorus, trippy sitar solo and of course, more cowbell. Even with all these trappings, “One Way Ticket” still falls short of their debut’s signature song; it lacks the simplistic charm that turned the world on its head back in 2003.
Though many people agreed that “Permission” was over-the-top, it was by no means overproduced. “One Way Ticket To Hell”, however is a different story. Just listen to the dark and heavy ode to hair loss, “Bald”, or its follow-up track, the peppy “Girlfriend”. The pair of songs are polar opposites, yet both are jam-packed with as many overdubs as possible. It all seems rather overbearing compared to the purely guitar-driven sound of their debut.
Of all the songs on “One Way Ticket”, “English Country Garden” surprised me the most. Possessing one of the catchiest vocal melodies I’ve ever heard in a verse, “English Country Garden” is a high-energy tale of reluctant love between two dimwitted farmers. Quite simply, this song rocks way harder than any other song on the CD.
“One Way Ticket” is by no means a bad album. Fans of seventies glam rock (especially QUEEN) will really appreciate this record; some people actually like their music filled to the brim with as many overdubs as possible. However, even if you overlook the massive overproduction, the strength of the songwriting just doesn’t match up to “Permission” in terms of classic potential. It’s an okay, if slightly disappointing follow-up. Here’s hoping the inevitable third album recaptures the raw energy of their debut; I want to believe in a band called THE DARKNESS again. (Online September 17, 2006)