15 or so years ago The Darkness appeared on the British music scene as if from nowhere (actually Lowestoft) with a refreshing bast of uncynical, upbeat, knowingly silly, hard rock that saw them headline festivals and even release a Christmas single that has stood the test of time.
Since then they’ve had their ups and downs with drummers and bassists coming and going, a full on band split and subsequent reformations and now, having seemingly established a smoother rhythm for themselves, they’ve unleashed their fifth studio album, Pinewood Smile.
From the off it’s clear that what we’re getting on Pinewood Smile is a combination of all the things that made their debut Permission To Land so enjoyable combined with a more mature feeling that gives the thing more of a sense of stability.
While opener All The Pretty Girls is a solid rocker and Buccaneers Of Hispaniola is a fine slice of nonsense its Solid Gold where the album hits its stride.
The AC/DC meets Queen sound is at full force (with hints of Motörhead and Metallica mixed in for a bit of edge) and the band’s famous arrogant swagger is also firmly in place, typified nicely in title line ‘We’re never going to stop, shitting out solid gold’, while also getting in a dig at major label A&R men with whom I can only assume they’ve had their run ins.
This kind of style is the keystone of the record but there is some dynamic too with a few ballads, like Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry, and demented rockers like Japanese Prisoner of Love that hark back to sounds not really heard since the late 1970s or early 1980s.
What sets The Darkness apart from sounding like any other hard rock band with a retro twist though really comes out in the lyrics.
While they instantly deflate the arrogance into a kind of knowing confidence, something that was not entirely clear in the band’s early days, they also place The Darkness in the same legacy as comedy acts like Reeves & Mortimer or The Mighty Boosh as they take the everyday and throw in a surreal twist.
In this case it’s twisting rock ‘n’ roll conventions particularly noticeable on Southern Trains, not a usual subject for a rock song, and Lay Down With Me, Barbara that includes lyrics that could come from the Ian Dury school that brought us Billericay Dickie and its ilk – a choice line being ‘Lay Down with Me Barbara, Underneath The Candelabra’.
The rest of the album presents more of this with some fine and unpretentious glammy hard rock with a good sense of fun.
The line up of the band has evolved slightly for this album too so, while the Hawkins brothers are of course the centre (don’t worry Justin’s catsuits seem to remain a firm part of things) and Frankie Poullain is in his rightful place on bass looking like something out of the film Mindhorn, new drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger Taylor, does much what his father did back in the day by bringing a new vocal facet (along with the drums) that nicely back up Justin’s famous falsetto.
While it’s unlikely to win over any new fans, what Pinewood Smile does rather nicely is continue the legacy of British hard rock with a sense of fun and shows The Darkness as a band who’ve grown up into a unique act that has carved their own space in the music world after a tempestuous first decade.