The New Darkness album: Is it any good?
Now three albums into their reformation cycle, The Darkness have effectively, over the course of their last two albums, Hot Cakes and Last of Our Kind, successively managed to let we the audience down easily. We know we’re never going to get another Permission to Land now – we’re not even going to get another One Way Ticket issued to us, come to think of it – so best just to enjoy what’s served up on Pinewood Smile.
What’s served up, as it goes, is the best thing the band have come up with since that ‘disappointing’ 2005 sophomore outing. Opener All the Pretty Girls is a suitably goofy opener, a throwaway re-introduction into the world of the Hawkins brothers, but the second track, Buccaneers of Hispaniola is as swashbuckling as its title would suggest.
A scintillating and heady mix of Muse and Led Zeppelin, it really gets the juices flowing in no uncertain fashion. Solid Gold is back to the ‘silly’ Darkness, but it too has a lot going for it, right down to it’s anti-radio chorus, wherein the band remind us they’re never ‘going to stop shitting out solid gold’… in insanely catchy style, natch…
Strangely enough the satirical paean to ineffectual public transport, Southern Trains, turns out to be a bile-fuelled punk rager, riffmungous backing bolstering the real anger behind the lyric ‘there are fucking arseholes everywhere’. It’s strangely compelling – even if you don’t travel on this particular network you’ll find yourself tweeting a complaint to them and shouting ‘fuck you Southern Trains’ along with Justin almost in spite of yourself… At least that’s what Mrs Strickmann found me doing when she came in to the lounge to ask me to turn the music down.
If we’re honest Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry isn’t much more than a Permission to Land b-side, though the lazy Framptonesque guitar playing does have a sneaky charm to it. This is followed by the batty Japanese Prisoner of Love, which opens and closes with some thunderous drumming from new boy Tiger Taylor before descending into an innuendo-ridden tale (apocryphal, I’m sure) of sordid goings on in Prison showers. Strange isn’t the word.
Thankfully things return to a more ‘normal’ state with the quite superb Lay Down With Me, Barbara, which, despite yet more silly lyrics contains an absolutely immense chorus with Taylor again showing himself to be just as good a drummer as his dad (don’t tell me you don’t know who ‘dad’ is), as well as some fluid guitar work from Justin that surprisingly brings to mind the great Ernie Isley. Strange but true.
I Wish I Was In Heaven is probably the best track on the album – perversely slotted in at number eight in the running order. Smiths-y guitars in the verse (you read that right) giving way to a superb chorus and some more quite glorious lead playing from Justin. It’s life affirming stuff of the kind this band used to, well, shit out, and it brings the hairs on the back of the neck right up in priapic homage to the band’s talents.
Happiness starts with a quite hilarious little spoken word tableau, before busting out of the speakers in happy seventies power-pop style, all searing solos and sharp harmonies. There’s even a cheeky ‘love on the rocks’ reference for long-term darklings to raise their glasses to.
Stampede of Love is, in a word, hilarious. Framed first as a take on grunge hand-wringing anthem Hunger Strike, the lyrics are, wonderfully, seemingly about someone not denying themselves but actually feeding their face to it’s fullest extent. This is clever, clever stuff. And the music, which explodes into a stadium rock sturm und drang mid way through (with de rigeur show stopping solo in tow) is also suitably gluttonous. Amazing stuff.
In all honesty, the album could probably end at this point, after ten tracks, and the band would leave nobody feeling short-changed. None of the four final tracks are particularly essential. Uniball goes back to Zeppelin for it’s intro but is a bit humdrum all up, despite some nice musical touches, whilst Rack of Glam is heavy if a little mundane. Penultimate track Seagulls (Losing My Virginity) is just boring filler – probably not even b-side material, really – which leaves Rock in Space, an amusing approximation of Brian May’s Star Fleet Project to round things out in quirky but hardly essential fashion.
So there you have it, The good, bad and ugly Darkness in exhaustive detail. There really is some good stuff on Pinewood Smile, some of it weighted down by Hawkins’ need to raise a smile every twelve seconds, some of it elevated by superb performances and exhilarating skill. It’s well worth a listen, even if after a couple of goes round you’re going to narrow the field down to the real solid gold that’s here to be mined, shat out or otherwise.
Pinewood Smile will be released by Cooking Vinyl on October 6th