REVIEW: The Darkness – Pinewood Smile (2017 Japanese 15 track edition)

THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile (2017 Canary Dwarf Japanese printing)

Please welcome Rufus Tiger Taylor to the drum kit!  Son of Roger Taylor (the guy from The Darkness’ biggest influence, Queen), I think we can assume this kid knows his way around a drum set.  It’s the third drummer in three albums for The Darkness.  Original member Eddie Graham was on board for Hot Cakes (2013), but he was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies for Last of Our Kind (2015).

The Darkness are The Darkness are The Darkness — don’t expect them to ditch the operatic vocals or bombastic arrangements.  Pinewood Smile is more of what fans love, perhaps turned up just a little bit louder than before.  Indeed, the second track “Buccaneers of Hispaniola” sounds like The Darkness have been listening to a lot of Queen II on maximum volume.  “Japanese Prisoner of Love” has similar epic Queen inspirations, but melded to a momentous thrash metal riff.

Their penchant for humour remains unabated.  “And we’re never gonna stop shitting out solid gold!” sings Justin Hawkins on one radio-ready rock tune.  “Southern Trains” features the truism “There are fucking assholes everywhere.”  We must assume the trains in the south of England are shite:  “Fuck you, southern trains, we’re not getting anywhere!”

Of course, what would a Darkness album be without a few ballads?  It can’t be all heaviness and gloom.  “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is a quite lovely acoustic Darkness ballad.  Bright and sunny “Happiness” is the gleeful mood of early Darkness returned.  There are a number of exceptional diverse tracks as well, that defy categorisation.  “I Wish I Was in Heaven” and “Lay Down With Me Barbara” stretch out, incorporating different elements both hard and soft, but always catchy as the plague.  The standard album closer “Stampede of Love” is a folksy “Blackbird”-ish duet with Justin and Dan Hawkins…but stay tuned for a manic unlisted coda!

On to the bonus tracks — four on the deluxe edition, five on the Japanese.  These are a little stranger than the standard album tracks.  What is a “Uniball”?  Ummm…it’s when you have to have one testicle surgically removed.  Yes, The Darkness wrote a heavy metal song about it.  B-side worthy “Rack of Glam” is a decent pun with a punchy chorus.  “Seagulls” is quite exceptional, highlighted by mandolins and a slight celtic flavour.  Maybe the subtitle “Losing My Virginity” is why it ended up as a bonus track.  Also brilliant is “Rock in Space”, the most pompous and bombastic track of the group.

The Japanese exclusive track is a demo of “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?”, which is a real treat.  Stripped back to just the basic acoustic arrangement, you can really just listen to Justin and Dan harmonising.  No drums, no bass.  Even though it’s just a demo, you can choose which version of “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is your favourite, because both have merits.

What Pinewood Smile lacks, compared to previous Darkness albums, is an immediately loveable pop rock standout track.  Something like “She Just a Girl, Eddie” or “Last of Our Kind”.  Pinewood Smile doesn’t have those kinds of songs, but hopefully this means we’ll still be listening to it a year or two later.

4/5 stars

25 comments

  1. I think you’re right about it being a grower. However, after listening to the two tracks you put on here, I’m going to spend the rest of the evening singing the lyrics, “Shitting out solid gold” to myself.

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  2. I bought Permission To Land with you in Taranna (I think it was $2.99, a no-brainer sez Lebrain!), and I’ve heard other stuff of theirs. I like that they’re still making music!

    Also: I looked in my iTunes and I have another one of theirs called One Way Ticket… do I have the CD of that too? A quick check of the Man Cave and YES I DO! Whoa. I don’t even remember buying that. Where and when did I get it? Are Darkness CDs multiplying like rabbits in my collection?

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    1. They might be. They are a randy bunch for sure.

      You have two really good albums there. Permission was significant for me even though you can tell there’s a lot of filler. It was really exciting when it came out.

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    1. First before that: The end of 2017 lists. Will The Darkness make the list? I don’t know, but I do have a rough idea of my #1, and nothing has come along so far to change it…so we’ll see!

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  3. Long time reader, first time commenter – The Darkness are a truly wonderful band. A singular voice in these times, raised on rock and very 70s/80s influenced but with their own eccentric, exhilarating charm and touch that adds a uniqueness. Trade in a language almost uniquely their own.

    Pinewood Smile I love, even more than Last of Our Kind, every track has either exquisite melody, memorable musical hooks, or both. The bonus tracks are worthy with two being exceptional – Rock in Space and Seagulls.

    Have seen them many times in Dublin, Limerick and Cork; including for Easter is Cancelled (they played album in full), and still play their catalogue on the ipod. Their music is joyous, even euphoric at times. Excellent musicianship and quality songwriting. Hope we get many more albums from these guys!

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    1. Hey there Gearoid! Thanks for the comment! “Eccentric, exhilarating charm” is the perfect way to put it. Wish I had said that myself. And yes, Rock in Space is particularly exceptional. Still loving this album three years later.

      What did you think of Easter is Cancelled? That’s the only one that I have not figured out. It still baffles me a bit.

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      1. Howdy Mike,

        Discovered your site few years ago whilst seeking Aerosmith and Kiss reviews. Your reviews and re-reviews of Kiss’ full catalogue was excellent. I am one of those who rates Unmasked quite highly, even higher than Love Gun!

        The Darkness Easter is Cancelled I love. My passion for LOOK and Pinewood is even greater, but EIC, while less about the raucous and visceral guitar led charge, includes top shelf songwriting. Live Til I Die, In Another Life, Guitar Men, the wondrous 80s pop rock gem How Can I Lose Your Love – magical melodies really. The delightfully eccentric Deck Chair – sublime in concert in Cork and Dublin, Nov 2019 (playing EIC in full), what other band could or would compose such a song? Atmospheric, haunting, witty and ultimately engaging.

        Perhaps not as immediate or as fiery as their previous bombast and rifferama, more acoustic led in general, but that unique songwriting and superior musicianship shines through. Tis a beacon of light and of Justin’s falsetto!

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        1. Hey Gearoid! Well my impression of Unmasked has certainly improved over the years. It’s been an evolution of three reviews! And speaking on that — spoiler alert — on Monday I’ll be posting another “three-view” of a Kiss album. Just got Best of Solo Albums on CD from Japan recently, and it’s very different and worthy of a third look-in!

          Maybe I’ll give Easter is Cancelled another listen with fresh ears. Did you pre-order that live album they were recording?

          I bet seeing the album live would make all the difference in the world. Many times in the past, I didn’t really “get” an album until seeing a band play it live.

          M

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  4. Seeing it live, particularly in small venue in Cork, (it was actually the opening night I think so first time played live), gives the album that additional magic without a doubt!

    I didn’t pre order the live album but was delighted to see the live stream is available to view on YouTube, so off to watch some of that right this minute :)

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      1. The orders for the upcoming live album only opened a week or two ago. I pre ordered it on Saturday night. April 9th release.

        The full streamed show is a killer – didn’t know what to expect with a no audience show but the band absolutely scorches! Brilliant performance, with a wonderful set list. Have already watched the whole stream almost twice fully through. And this is the show that the live album is presenting.

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        1. I forgot to pre-order, so hopefully it gets a full release in the shops and everything. If any shops are left after all this! April 9 – noted. Looking forward to that. Watching it twice, it must be decent!

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  5. Mike,

    I think you can pre-order at any point up to shortly before release? I only pre ordered 2 weeks ago, the day after watching the stream on YouTube; so good I had to pre order. Just a wonderful show, great separation between the guitars to hear what the brothers are playing.

    My listening this week has included their 2015 record ‘Last of Our Kind’ (deluxe with some superb bonus tracks).

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    1. Awesome, I need to make sure I do pre-order it. Thanks for the tip!

      For this week, I have been listening to the Stone Gods’ album all week. I loved the Stone Gods. The only bad thing about the Darkness reunion really was the end of the Stone Gods. Oh well — I’m glad we have the Darkness if we can’t have both.

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