I suspect most people in the UK who remember following the popular music charts back in 2003 will be going "Hang on, I remember these guys!" around about now. Yes, these were the guys who released "I Believe In A Thing Called Love", a song which most karaoke owners probably have hated since it came out due to how many people will have taken influence from it when singing. But this is not the only album the members of the band have released: they released their second album in November 2005, One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back, then split into two bands after Justin Hawkins left the band due to his drug addiction (he's clean now, as far as I've heard). The band without Hawkins moved their bassist on their second album up to lead vocals, got a new bassist and became Stone Gods, releasing their only album so far in June 2008, Silver Spoons & Broken Bones, while Hawkins put together a new band called Hot Leg, which released their only album in February 2009, Red Light Fever. The Darkness reunited with their original line up in March 2011, released their third album (titled Hot Cakes) in August 2012 and, at the moment, are now at work writing material for their fourth album.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because most of you probably only know this record by them (and probably their third album) and I feel like reviewing their stuff as a sort of public service announcement. You know, because I have too much free time...
Anyway, The Darkness originally started out under the name Empire (I cannot confirm any real details about them, but I feel confident in assuming that they were not a Queensryche cover band...) before changing their name to The Darkness. They proved to be rather popular, yet they surprisingly had very little interest from labels, as only two labels showed any interest in signing them before the release of their first album. Apparently, this is because the industry thought they were a joke and weren't cool.
...Well, the fact this album (at least in the UK) went straight to number two in the album charts upon release and then moved up to the top of the charts and stayed there for four weeks probably proved the executives wrong in that aspect. But being popular does not necessarily indicate that you're actually any good, so let's sit down and see how good the album actually is.
First up, the album cover. Erm...I'll be honest, I have nothing to say about this cover art. It's not bad, but it seems like the kind of thing that the 80's would have thought was absolutely hilarious. I'm still not entirely sure whether it's clever what they've done with it or dumb, especially when you think about the title of the album and realise what it's a rather subtle (and probably slightly confused) reference to...
The band's sound can pretty much be summed up as AC/DC as covered by Queen. While that is grossly oversimplifying their sound, it does form the main components of their sound: you've got riffs that should have the AC/DC fans going "HELL, YEAH!" and vocals that will bring to mind Queen at their most extravagant (although saying Justin Hawkins is on the same level as Freddy Mercury is, frankly, an insult to Freddy Mercury. Maybe closer to Roger Taylor...). There's debatably a bit of Judas Priest in Justin Hawkins' singing style, as he reaches for some notes that are ball busting at how high they are (although he doesn't quite reach the point of hitting a note like the one Halford hits in "Dissident Aggressor"), but it doesn't appear in their music at all. Obviously, this is not exactly a recipe for being innovative, but I wouldn't say this is exactly a bad thing, considering AC/DC's best days are pretty far away now and Queen are pretty much a self-tribute band now. Plus, at least the band aren't just writing rip offs of AC/DC songs like a few bands I could mention...
The band's lyrics need to be addressed now: saying The Darkness write painful lyrics should be a textbook example of an understatement. It probably shouldn't matter too much to most people, since, well, you don't usually expect deep lyrics from rock and metal music, but The Darkness occasionally descend to levels where even I have to groan at some of the lyrics (which is saying a lot, considering I usually don't get bothered by lyrics!). I don't think I'd be exaggerating much if I said I've heard better lyrics by punk bands! I guess they can be excused due to The Darkness basically aiming to provide nothing but a good time (You'd not believe how long I've been wanting to drop that reference into a review before now! I know, it wasn't worth it...), but it still doesn't stop me from rolling my eyes at some of the worst examples on the album.
The members are...well, they can at least play their instruments to some degree of proficiency, that's true, but, considering the most complicated thing that is in the music is the guitar solos (which, admittedly, are reasonably complex without requiring you to descend into virtuoso levels of guitar playing ability), it's hard to tell whether I should be praising them for playing well or condemning them for not playing technically amazing music. It's like saying that AC/DC are made up to amazing musicians: you're probably not wrong, but their music doesn't really demonstrate this very well on a song by song basis because that's not what the band are going for.
As I've brought up earlier, Justin Hawkins is a pretty good vocalist, although I will say that if you don't like falsetto singing, you would be advised to avoid The Darkness like the plague, as Hawkins' upper range WILL get on your nerves very quickly. Even as a fan of bands with a fondness for higher range screaming like Judas Priest, Crimson Glory, Queensryche, Iced Earth, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Sonata Arctica and DragonForce (and with a slight appreciation for Manowar when they're not acting like the best thing since sliced bread), I occasionally find myself getting annoyed by Hawkins' upper range, which is, admittedly, not helped by some of the lyrics he's singing in that higher range!
I wouldn't say there's anything really bad about the band's music if you like AC/DC and Queen (and, certainly, on a composition level, most of the songs on the album are fairly good), but I cannot help finding myself vaguely thinking "This needs a bit more of a unique twist to it". Now, don't get me wrong, this album does have some variety to it (they have ballads, for a start: AC/DC haven't done that outside of their debut album, which wasn't even released outside of Australia!) and completely dismissing it as AC/DC worship that only gets away with it because Justin Hawkins doesn't sound like Bon Scott or Brian Johnson would be horribly unfair, but you only have to listen to Stone God's album to realise that the AC/DC influence is so strong on this band that Hawkins voice probably is the only real thing that stops the AC/DC clone tag from being fairly applied to the band on this album and, as such, they could have done with adding a few more influences to their sound to ensure that they avoided that trap.
Now, to be fair to the band, they did what I just recommended they do on One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back and, well, it didn't work out so well for them, so you can probably say that The Darkness did just that and it did them no favours, but here's the thing: I'm not asking them to suddenly dial up the Queen influence like they did on the follow up album, I'm asking the band to add more to their music than just AC/DC influence, which is a surprisingly noticeable difference if you think about it hard enough. But I'll talk about that album when I get to it. For now, the issue with this albums is that the band could have done with a few more touches to their sound instead of borrowing "How To Sound Like AC/DC In 10 Easy Steps" from their local library, ignoring the rule about getting a frontman who sounds like Bon Scott and Brian Johnson and then forming their band. Which, incidentally, appears to be a very popular read among a lot of UK hard rock bands...OK, I'll stop snarking about the UK hard rock scene, as it's not the only scene which does it! Heck, I can shoot my own argument down easily if I wanted to by saying that King Lizard buck the tread by sounding like Skid Row and Guns N Roses and The Morning After don't sound like any other band I can think of and both of them are brilliant underrated bands in the UK hard rock scene that everyone should go check out if they want to dispel that belief! Only doing that would be a dumb idea, so I won't do that!
...Wow, I need to learn to be more subtle with my hints.
Anyway, the production on this album is...loud. Now, to be fair, it's rock music, so being loud kind of comes with the territory, but the production on this album can be fatigue inducing on the ears. There's a fine line between...wait, I think I've had this rant before now. Anyway, to cut a long story short, this album could have done with a bit more restraint in the mastering stage, as it makes the album difficult to listen to for large periods of time. The bass is a bit on the quiet side, but it's not particularly bad in that regard as it doesn't do anything especially interesting.
So, final thoughts? This is a very enjoyable album that's maybe lacking in some originality, has generally poor lyrics and definitely suffers from a mastering job which probably shows that the guy whose job it is to check it's not too loud was off sick that day. You'll probably enjoy the entire album if you're not too bothered by what I've brought up, although I suspect most people reading this probably picked it up years ago and have already formed their own opinions about the album. If you haven't picked up this album and this sounds like your kind of thing, then go do so! Just remember to turn your speakers down before you start playing it for the first time, as you might blow your ears out if you're don't!
Final Rating: 7 Out Of 10
A very enjoyable album that probably has a place in your record collection already (and might want a quick dusting off if that's the case). If it doesn't, then you should consider picking it up if you aren't opposed to AC/DC and high pitched vocals and don't usually have complaints about the quality of lyrics and overly loud mastering.