I come to shine a light on The Darkness. This will be less a spotlight and more the harsh glare of an inquisitors lamp. The Darkness have always been a band that divide opinion, but since their comeback the general consensus in the press has been that it’s nice to have them around and that they really are a very fine rock band. However they have been perceived in the past and to what extent that perception had been a falsehood, they are now considered ‘one of our own’, partly by dint of just have stuck it out and paid their rock n’ roll dues.
During the bands first incarnation, when they were having hits and busting out all over the mainstream in an explosion of Lycra catsuits, curls and Justin Hawkins shameless show-boating I was pretty wary of them. My problem was that they were the only rock band achieving success. My feeling was suspicion that the whole thing was just a great big parody, a clever gimmick – sort of ‘Hey, remember hard rock music? Wasn’t it funny?!’ If rock music was going to get in the charts and people were going to enjoy it did it have to be this? Did it need to be filtered through post-modernism? Most rock fans always had a pretty good sense of the ridiculousness of the music – did it need an extra layer of wink wink irony on top? Do we have to make ourselves a laughing stock in the eyes of the world to be accepted? To me it was like making Bill Hicks wear clown shoes. We know it’s funny but do we have to look silly now too? Having said all that they did have a couple of tunes that even I couldn’t deny were great – ‘Get You’re Hands Off Of My Woman’ and that brilliantly daft Christmas single are welcome in my house any time.
Anyway, so The Darkness are back, established, part of the furniture now – so can I forgive and forget? Can I love the tunes and indeed are they worth loving? Perhaps inevitably the answer is yes and no.
One thing that is not in doubt is the bands ability to write big, commercial sounding tunes. Every song here will be stuck in your head after only a couple of listens, whether you want them there or not. The song writing is undeniably strong, with tons of memorable melodies and many great riffs. The work of guitarist Dan Hawkins is stellar throughout. There is a clutch of songs here; the Led Zep-tastic ‘Roaring Waters’, the loose and funky ‘Hammer & Tongs’ and ‘Open Fire’ which are all unalloyed delights. Mind you if Billy Duffy hears ‘Open Fire’ he may alert his lawyers, such is its Cult worship. The lyrics to all of these songs are borderline childish, but mostly stay on the right side of the Spinal Tap clever/stupid line. ‘Open Fire’ rather than being a sex/weapons based cliché-fest is actually a song in praise of an open fire and the romantic possibilities thereof. Typical really.
More often than not though the brilliance of the musicians in undermined by their insistence on acting like naughty school boys, putting on silly voices in the intros and singing the type of lyrics that would only make Manowar proud. Sometimes it isn’t even the silliness that grates, it’s the bands penchant for overblown pomposity – ‘Conquerors’ and ‘Last of Our Kind’ stow the daft lyrics and instead aim for musical theatre levels of po-faced ham.
There are two occasions where the band play it relatively straight and deliver really satisfying rock songs. ‘Mighty Wings’ (which has the largest traces of the bands Queen fixation) is an excellent, dramatic centrepiece to the album with lovely Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies and the softer love song ‘Sarah O Sarah’, not quite a rock ballad and without any OTT emoting it is an unexpectedly gentle pleasure.
So ”Last of Our Kind” contains all the ingredients we have come to expect from a album by The Darkness. Subtlety isn’t one of them, but this album contains enough gonzoid attitude to keep their fans happy, and even a couple of numbers that may surprise the doubters, like yours truly.