, August 24th, 2012 08:19
The Darkness have a habit of taking everyone by surprise. In the early part of the last decade they garnered a massive following thanks to their astonishing live performances, though the music industry's A&Rs (remember them?) wouldn't touch them with a bargepole. Once finally signed, their debut album Permission To Land went quadruple platinum in the UK, and was an emphatic riposte to the cynics.
Even if we had the heart-rates of mice, the rise and fall of The Darkness would have been spectacularly quick. In 2003 they were suddenly the biggest band in Britain - one of the biggest in the world - though if there was a sense it couldn't last forever their plummet from grace and acrimonious demise was messy and appropriately rock & roll.
It should be noted the band only ever played one bad gig, but unfortunately for them that show was as headliners of Reading Festival. It was their personal Altamont and their Charlie Manson moment all rolled into one (though with less death or atrocious personal hygiene), and for all of lead-singer Justin Hawkin's hilariously catty posturing and spitting back at critics, the firework display that followed their flatlining performance felt like the beginning of the end... and it very nearly was.
The underrated One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back! was undersold and over-budget, bitchy infighting saw bassist Frankie Poullain leave the band through a window (he climbed out apparently), and the fortunes they'd made during the final hurrah of recorded music went up their noses or got pissed up against a wall.
Last year, their detractors responded to the news of a reformation sniffly, and predicted they'd disappear without trace this time. Shortly after, Lady Gaga announced the band would be her main support on World Tour, playing to over a million people in six months. It takes a brave person to write off The Darkness, and yet people still do.
The rest is history. Except it isn't. The band have returned with their third album, Hot Cakes, proof if it were needed that there's plenty of life in the old dog yet - and that dog still don't give a fuck. Whatever the reasons for reformation, it's clear that the original four members have put any differences aside on what is their most cohesive album yet. The affection within the camp comes through in the lyrics, with Justin singing on opener 'Every Inch Of You' that he's in a band "with my brother and my two best mates" before inviting "every man, woman and child" to suck his cock. It's classic Hawkins' tomfoolery and the energy of the song makes one think he's having the time of his life.
'She's Just A Girl Eddie' continues this solidarity, a touching lyric to lovelorn drummer Ed Graham, in which he assures him: "That girl is not the end of the world / She's just a girl, Eddie / Five million other girls who wanna make love to you..." If there's no 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' here, then in many ways they've gone one better with 'Concrete', a song that sparkles with ambition and somehow manages to keep building when you think there's nowhere left to go. It's a hard rock banger with all the infectiousness of Abba and unquestionably one of their finest tracks to date. And their cover of Radiohead's 'Street Spirit' is as audacious as it is startling, with Dan Hawkin's dampened riff breathing new life into a song that was probably one of the Oxford five-piece's more dirgy numbers when they were just an indie rock band back in the 90s. There's even a cheeky little line inserted that nods to 'Just' - also from Radiohead's The Bends. In fact, while on the subject of guitar lines, the axe from both brothers is sharper, more-accomplished and surprisingly more adventurous throughout, taking in country, glam rock and dirty blues.
If Permission to Land was full of chart-friendly anthems and One Way Ticket their coked-up homage to Queen, then Hot Cakes is a little older, a little wiser, drawing from a wider palette of influences that include AC/DC and Aerosmith. On the tremendous 'Livin' Each Day Blind' it's as though they've channelled the spirit of the Bee Gees to take their own blueprint for lighter-aloft balladry (last so beautifully executed on 'Love Is Only A Feeling') up a notch.
Elsewhere the album has a rootsier, bluesier feel than anything they've done before, and it's in the main less pompous, a sign perhaps that they've got an even bigger market in their sites. That track might sound incongruous on daytime radio in the UK, but not blaring from a pickup truck driving on a hot highway on the open roads of America. Could The Darkness have the US in their sights? You wouldn't write them off, would you.