By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Make no mistake, whilst they tend not to take themselves too seriously, The Darkness are nobody’s fool. Whilst the last 14 years since the release of the ridiculous riff railcar that was Permission to Land have been nothing short of a wacky rollercoaster, the mere suggestion that Lowestoft’s favourite songs are in a ‘joke’ band is laughable, with their fifth album, Pinewood Smile proving that the hard ‘n’ heavy glamazons can still kick it. On top of that, they’ve had a pretty good time since their reunion in 2011, with Hot Cakes and Last of Our Kind being well received by critics and fans alike, with a recent spot supporting Guns ‘n’ Roses on their mega world tour.
The album starts as it means to go on, with All the Pretty Girls leading in with a muddy bass riff, with frontman Justin Hawkins’ instantly recognisable tearing through the record like your mum’s scissors through wrapping paper. With the lyrics referencing a ‘Pinewood Smile’, now is a better time than ever to say that the album cover is fucking terrifying. What is, assumedly, Hawkins’ gleaming white teeth with the band sitting upon his pearly whites. It communicates the ‘smile’ part excellently, but the album should be named ‘This Is A Fucking Terrifying Smile’ if it’s based on the cover. Justin Hawkins actually came out this week and said that ‘radio had killed the riff’, referring to the state of mainstream radio has killed the chances of rock musicians breaking through. A tired, haggard take at best, and a false one, because this album proves the power of the riff is more than alive.
It’s one’s opinion to say that ‘radio killed the riff’, maybe rock music isn’t as prominent as it was in the mainstream, especially when compared to the era of the NWOBHM, but you know what that means? Write a riff so fucking powerful it’s got no choice but to occupy every airwave in the world. Instead of telling young aspiring musicians that rock music is dying, challenge them to be the driving force of the New-New Wave of British Heavy Metal instead. Fire fights fire.
Though it might not appear on a radio near you, the riff on Bucaneers of Hispanolia is a textbook riff; it’s powerful, driving and memorable. Sure it’s a few notes, but it’s enough notes, played in the right order, to get you salivating. This is probably the key, driving theme and the formula of this album; base your song around a heavy, driving riff in, throw a chorus, bridge and solo in, then get some growing falsetto on top. It’s an album that can only be described as ‘fun’, it doesn’t feel particularly emotional or serious, bar for the slow jam Stampede of Love at the end of the album, it’s just good fun & rock ‘n’ roll, always a classic recipe.
However, this album does get fairly political, fairly quickly, with the song Southern Trains being about, er, you guessed it, Southern Trains. The riff feels like a train going down the tracks, something Southern frequently fail to do, with the lyrics succinct and to the point with the chorus “It’s a journey into pure despair, there are fucking arseholes everywhere, I can smell this sad shit in the air, fuck you, Southern Trains, we’re not getting anywhere” familiar to anyone who’s ever been stuck on a train. Is this a subtle call for Prime Minister Corbyn to nationalise the railways? Maybe, art is subjective, but good musicians can make a song out of anything.
One of the best tracks on this album is definitely Japanese Prisoner of Love, which perfectly captures the magic of The Darkness; the riffs are heavy and the lyrics are ridiculous, pure nonsense. It’s fucking brilliant. The slower tracks like Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry, which has a real dancehall slow dance feel to it, and Stampede of Love are fantastic. Whilst there’s nothing that blows your head clean off, despite Solid Gold promising otherwise, there isn’t really a bad track on this album. However, the track also promises they’ll never stop shitting out solid gold. Which sounds… painful.
Arguably, this might be the best album The Darkness have released since Permission to Land. Whilst it does feel formulaic as in it’s a riff driven, rock ‘n’ roll freight train, it doesn’t get boring. Unlike Southern Trains, you actually feel like you’re going somewhere. It’s not too heavy, it’s not so poorly written or boring you end up wanting to stab yourself in the ears after five songs, it’s just a cheeky little monkey of an album. The riff isn’t dying, you talk bollocks, Justin Hawkins, because you album proves otherwise. However, you sing angelically.
Yes, they are wearing catsuits, yes they are talking about shitting gold & how everyone on their train is an arsehole, but it’s fun. It’s silly, it’s great!