Last review before Christmas!
If there is one thing we collectors hate, it’s buying a rare collectible version of an album, only to see it reissued later with more tracks! I waited ages to get the Japanese printing of the brand-new Darkness album Last of Our Kind, featuring two bonus tracks. Now, just in time for Christmas, the Darkness have released a seasonal deluxe edition, with four bonus tracks this time, and special packaging that looks like Darkness wrapping paper being torn open to reveal the CD inside. Even so, I had to order this CD in from Europe.
This counts as your annual seasonal content here at mikeladano.com, and it’s my only seasonal content this year! Humbug. Unusually for a seasonal post, this one is 100% rock!
Buying the album twice hurt a little bit less because it’s really, really good. The Darkness have quality standards, and they have not dropped between albums. They also had a new member, the talented drummer Emily Dolan Davies, who sadly couldn’t stick around and has since been replaced by Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of Queen sticksman Roger Taylor. Emily plays on all tracks herein, and she does so seamlessly. On first spin it would be hard to tell that original drummer Eddie Graham wasn’t around anymore.
Laden with the screams of flighting Vikings, “Barbarian” opens the album heavier than expected. “Barbarian” storms the gates, leaving trails of blood behind it, but fear not! “Open Fire” is fast n’ catchy hard rock n’ roll, the way the Darkness has always done it. The high vocals are toned down, with Justin Hawkins singing in his normal voice for most of it. His throat has acquired a little bit of grit to it (light sandpaper only) which he uses effectively on “Open Fire”, which would have been a hit had it come out 10 years ago.
The very best track on the album is #3, the title track, boasting one of those Darkness choruses that has become their trademark and strength. “Last of Our Kind” rings down as the highlight album and indeed one of the best songs to come out in 2015. Just like he did in the days of yore, Justin lets his voice rip, while laying down Lizzy-like guitar harmonies with his brother Dan. If singles were a still a thing, this would be the one. You’ll notice how Davies accents the song on drums the way Ed Graham used to. She doesn’t overplay, but she punctuates it where it has to be.
Rather than having used up all their ammunition on these first three great tracks, The Darkness have plenty more shells in the belt. “Roaring Waters” is a mid-tempo groove, and almost lacklustre except for that slippery Hawkins riff. Then you need a ballad, so you get a ballad: “Wheels of the Machine”. It’s not as pompous as “Love is Only a Feeling”, but still has the golden Justin voice that makes their ballads either unique or unpalatable, depending on your tastes. I say, turn it up. You’ll especially want it loud on “Mighty Wings”, which has a neat spacey 80’s sci-fi keyboard intro. Don’t be mistaken, for “Mighty Wings” rocks with a groove so chunky that neck strain is a real danger.
“This ain’t no double entendre. This ain’t no euphemism. This is real life.” Well hey, a mudslide is a weird subject for a song, but that’s what “Mudslide” appears to be about! “It’s a fuckin’ mudslide!” says Justin, to reiterate his point, after lamenting the loss of his “dear beloved gazebo” in the natural disaster. Fortunately, this song kicks lots and lots of ass. I wonder how many song lyrics reference a gazebo? “Sarah O’Sarah” has a vaguely celtic feel due to the mandolin. It’s an album highlight, sounding much like the Darkness’ second LP, One Way Ticket. Davies proves her mettle on the chorus section, a gallop of percussion that frankly Eddie Graham didn’t seem to have the chops to do. “Hammer & Tongs” shares its pop-chorus bent, but has some juicy slide guitar backing it up. There is even a slight Stones vibe in the gee-tars. The proper album ends on “Conquerors”, a ballad that serves as the dramatic pompous outro, featuring Dan Hawkins taking the lead vocals.
This deluxe CD continues on, with four bonus tracks, the first two of which are also on the pricier Japanese import version. “Messenger” and “Always Had the Blues” are fine as bonus tracks, with “Messenger” being album quality (and then some). Lush vocals from the back create swirls of melody that stick in your ear like gum in your hair! The real gem among the bonus tracks is the newbie “Million Dollar Strong”, which has a sweet 80’s riff (think Dokken) and a horn section for added oomph! The fourth track is their second Christmas single, “I Am Santa”. With an obvious “Do They Know It’s Christmas” bassline and beat, plenty of folks will find a nostalgic glow on this one. I especially like the line referencing “Ferrero Rocher”, a candy I always look forward to every Christmas. Like the chocolates, “I Am Santa” is sweet and delightful.
My only disappointment: 2013’s non-album single “The Horn” was not included as a bonus track. That leaves it frustratingly unreleased on a physical format.
Merry Christmas, and stay safe!