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.