British Whale

REVIEW: British Whale (Justin Hawkins) – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 single)

BRITISH WHALE – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 Atlantic CD single)

In 2005, while we anxiously awaited a new Darkness album (and they changed producers from “Mutt” Lange to Roy Thomas Baker), Justin Hawkins decided to do something on his own.  The rumour mill was going on about how the new Darkness was going to be an 80s-fest.  Justin’s solo single under the name British Whale certainly conveyed that sound.

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both Of Us” is a Sparks cover, previously tackled by Faith No More.  The original track was from 1974, but Justin’s rendition really did sound like the 80s.  Russell Mael’s high pitched vocal was exaggerated by Justin, with the cheese-whiz poured on thick.  It’s the kitchen sink approach.  But a classic pop song cannot be sunk and it’s quite listenable.  Faith No More’s cover would win in a one-on-one competition, but Darkness fans will obviously want to hear Justin’s take. The music video was popular because it featured world darts champion Phil Taylor (no relation to the Motorhead drummer).  Some fans expressed disappointment that the music video wasn’t included on the single, but in 2019 it matters not.  (The video was included on a DVD single, along with a “making of”, but that DVD did not include the B-side “America”.)

Perhaps better than the A-side is the more Darkness-like B-side.  It’s a tribute to the USA, its weather, and trees.  According to “America”, Justin really likes the scenery!  He sounds very sincere in his high-pitched praise.  There’s gui-board (or “keytar”) and a guitar solo that sounds like a cross between Brian May and Thin Lizzy.  It’s a bit of goofy fun.  Actually an excellent track, even containing some music from the “Star Spangled Banner” in the well-constructed solo.

These two songs really seem to convey that Justin really wanted to have some fun, blowing off steam with pop music in 2005.  In a way these songs are “peak Justin”.  You just can’t imagine anything more Justin than this!  (British Whale did another single called “England” in 2006 that never saw a physical release but we’ll cover that another time.)

British Whale can be bought on CD for ridiculously low prices.  If you’re a Darkness fan, you have no excuse.  Dive on in!

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Hot Leg – Red Light Fever (2009)

HOT LEG FRONT

HOT LEG – Red Light Fever (2009 Barbecue Rock Records)

It was a dark time for rock and roll.  The Darkness had split into two factions:  The Stone Gods, and Justin Hawkins’ Hot Leg.  The Gods were out of the gates with their album first in 2008, while Justin followed in 2009 with Red Light Fever.  Bizarrely, he credits himself as Justin “Dave” Hawkins in Hot Leg.

The Stone Gods made an excellent album, concentrating on rock and metal sounds.  Justin, on the other hand, has synthesized everything he does into one gestalt on Red Light Fever. There are still those cherished AC/DC-like moments that you may remember from Permission To Land (Hawkins even uses the lyric “permission to land” on one song) mixed with those operatic high vocals, taken to new levels of absurdity (“Chickens”). This is mixed with the polished Queen-like moments from the second Darkness album, One Way Ticket…, and the 80’s “keytar” sounds of his solo project British Whale. The result is, quite frankly, an album only Darkness fans will like.

I am a Darkness fan, and I do like it. The album kicks off with the aforementioned “Chickens”, which at first tricks you into thinking Hawkins has gone back to basics. Then the operatic chorus in full falsetto hits, and you realize that Hawkins is just as outrageous as ever.

“You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore”, the second track, reminds you that Hawkins is still one hell of a guitar player. Coming up right down the middle between Thin Lizzy and Brian May harmonies, it is Justin’s guitar work that keeps this band most anchored in rock.  The aptly titled “Trojan Guitar” is a cool workout, multi-faceted and complex.

By the time you get to the single, “Cocktails”, you will wonder just how Hawkins crammed so many notes into a word with just two syllables. Many will find this to be simply too much, like coffee with too much sweetener, or a cake with nothing but icing.  It’s a great song, with that Def Darkness vibe that I like so much, but the chorus is ridiculous!

“Gay in the 80s” is the most British Whale of the tracks, keytar up front and in your face, and Justin’s lyrics embracing the kitsch of that decade. Not a track for insecure rockers by any stretch.  Yet “Whichever Way You Wanna Give It” is the most reminiscent of early Darkness. It has that “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” vibe, with a chorus straight out of One Way Ticket…, and some solid guitar riffs with ample space between the power chords.

TAKE TAKE TAKEThe album ends a mere 35 minutes after it began, which some will find absolutely offensive after spending close to $30 (Canadian) on this import. However, if you wanted more, the band used to offer a vintage-Darkness sounding bonus track called “Take Take Take” on their website for free.  Unfortunately with the band now defunct, the song has been taken down.  Another free song, a bouncy upbeat number called “Heroes”, was available for a limited time only.

According to the inside notes, the album is to be filed under “Man-Rock”.

4/5 stars