ed graham

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Love Is Only a Feeling” (CD and DVD singles)

THE DARKNESS – “Love Is Only a Feeling” (2004 Warner UK CD and DVD singles)

Collecting singles isn’t as easy as just buying the single anymore.  Which versions are out there, with what tracks?  The Darkness’ singles are usually interesting for the different bonus tracks and variations out there.  Their hit ballad “Love Is Only a Feeling” was available on CD, DVD and 7″ vinyl.  You only need the CD and DVD to get all the tracks, but there’s a catch:  the DVD is in PAL format (common in Europe), so you need a player that can decode it.

No problem.  LeBrain HQ has a collection of frankenstein multi-media tech that can convert the most popular physical formats into something easier to play!  It’s not a pretty setup but it gets the job done.  All the tracks from all the versions of “Love is Only a Feeling” can be compiled in a single file folder!

As far as ballads go, The Darkness didn’t wimp out with “Love is Only a Feeling”.  The Lizzy-like intro harmonies meld into an acoustic mandolin verse.  A bombastic band like the Darkness is at home with a bombastic ballad, but early Darkness didn’t use a lot of frills and extraneous instrumentation.  “Love is Only a Feeling” doesn’t go overboard, but sticks to pretty a traditional rock arrangement.  You can blast it out the car windows — no problem.

The first of the single B-sides is “Planning Permission”, an unpolished song that almost stands with the ones that did make it onto Permission to Land.  It could use a little more tightening up but the roots of a good song are there.  Next is the bizarre “Curse of the Tollund Man”.  It might even be considered educational.  The actual mummy of the Tollund Man was found buried in peat as described in the song.  It sounds like the Darkness were really trying to write a Queen B-side.  It’s amusing but all over the place.

The music video for “Love is Only a Feeling” is the main feature of the DVD single.  I’m a sucker for mountaintop videos.  “Love Is Only a Feeling” is almost as epic as the Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses clips that came before .  Then, they take it over the top by going under the ground, in a cave!  A behind-the-scenes video reveals safety ropes, helicopters and elevated platforms to heighten the drama.

The real reason to seek the DVD single is to acquire the final bonus track, “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” live at the Astoria.  The action-packed track features Dan Hawkins on all guitars, so Justin can jump around and do the splits.  Vintage live Darkness with the original lineup is scarce, as far as official releases go.  This live Darkness is full speed, filmed in the raw.  It doesn’t matter if you get it for watching or just listening.  It’s a great version.

If you’re fortunate enough to play DVDs from multiple regions, the singles are usually dirt cheap on Discogs.  This one even came with a poster!  DVD singles were a fad and never really caught on.  They can, however, patch some holes in your Darkness collection.

4/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: The Darkness – One Way Ticket to Hell …and Back (2005)

THE DARKNESS – One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back (2005 Atlantic)

It was pins and needles, waiting for the new Darkness album in 2005.  First Mutt Lange was said to be the producer.  Then it was Roy Thomas Baker, who got a test drive on the 2004 remake of “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again”.  With guys like that at the control panel, you knew the Darkness were going to do something epic.  Unfortunately, some people just wanted more of the same Permission To Land style of fun but hard rock.  Those folks didn’t want flutes, strings or gui-boards.

“The new Darkness…sucks,” said one of my bosses when I walked in to work at the Record Store one afternoon in late December.  We had just received our shipment.  “In one song, all he does is sing, ‘I love what you’ve done with your hair,’ over and over again,” complained the boss, who loved raining on my parade.  My opinion of the album was the polar opposite.

There’s little question that the band took it too far.  Justin Hawkins was knee-deep in drugs and an infatuation with the 80s.  One Way Ticket to Hell …And Back is like a busy, manic snapshot of that period in time.  The band fired off in all directions, with pompous and bombastic kitchen-sink production backing them up.  Bassist Frankie Poullain was also out (the usual “creative differences”) and replaced by the uber-talented Richie Edwards.

The over-production is certainly an issue, especially when so many were attracted to the raw sound of the Darkness.  The shrill title track opens with flutes and Gregorian monks, and then Justin takes a snort.  “The first line hit me like a kick in the face. Thought I better have another just in case.”  A nice thick riff is joined to a soaring multi-layered chorus for that classic Darkness formula.  Then the acoustics and a sitar kicks in, because what else do you need on a song about excess?  The coke and money must have been flowing right through that recording studio.  (At least they saved a little money on the sitar.  They didn’t have to hire a player, since Justin could do it.  They did hire a flautist.)

“And I love what you’ve done with your hair!” screams Justin on the song that is (obviously) called “Knockers”.  It’s pure pop rock with piano, keyboards and slide guitar for that necessary excess.  “Is It Just Me?” (a single) strips things down to the basics, because you have to have a few songs like that too.  Then we get hysterical on “Dinner Lady Arms”, a Def Leppard song at heart.  Justin’s soaring high chorus was far beyond the Leps, but Phil Collen could have written that riff.

Permission to Land ended its first side with a ballad (“Love is Only a Feeling”) and so the formula was repeated here.  “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” is similar but just as good, embellished with strings and piano.  The most epic song, however, is “Hazel Eyes”.  The side two opener boasts full-on bagpipes and an indescribable high-pitched Celtic chorus!  Everything gels.  The pompous overindulgence, and the pure Darkness sound, are mixed to chemical perfection.  It also features that signature Eddie Graham drum fill.  Boom-boom-boom-boom, BAP!

There’s a brief stumble here.  “Bald” is an amusing song, rocking slow and hard, but lacking that je ne sais quoi that could have made it unforgettable.  Then Justin swerves a little too far into pop with the disco-like “Girlfriend“, complete with gui-board solo and the highest notes known to humankind.  A brilliant single it is, but perhaps an example of the Darkness going too far off course on an album that is already overflowing with excess.  Then again, perhaps it’s actually the right song for an album like this.  Where else would you put it?

As we close in on the end, “English Country Garden” fires on with a speedy piano rock jam.  It’s like taking a Queen LP and turning the speed up to 45.  Finally “Blind Man” is the closing ballad to takes things to their logical ends.  You will hear no discernible rock instruments, just the strings and woodwinds of an orchestra, for almost the whole thing.  That was really the end way to end an album this bombastic.  Appropriately, Justin’s vocals are similarly taken to the extreme.

You have to admire The Darkness for just going for it.  They could have done Permission to Land Part II, just by leaving out the excess.  They didn’t.  We knew they were going to go balls to the wall when they were briefly working with Mutt Lange.  You don’t work with Mutt Lange unless you want every note under the microscope.  There are a lot of notes on One Way Ticket, and each one sounds like it was painstakingly created in sterile perfection.  And that’s fine.  That’s one method of getting there.  One Way Ticket was the “experimental” second album, and like any other, it’s both baffling and charismatic in extreme measures.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Darkness – Permission to Land (2003)

DARKNESS_0001THE DARKNESS – Permission to Land (2003 Atlantic)

There was a time in the early 1990’s when I ate up all the new bands coming out. I bought every indi tape I could get my hands on in search of the “next thing” in heavy rock. I tweaked early to bands such as I Mother Earth, Tonic, Sven Gali, and Big Wreck. I still have my old I Mother Earth and Sven Gali promo tapes that arrived in the mail!  Then suddenly in the 2000’s everything dried up and there weren’t any more new bands coming out that I liked.  I stopped buying music by new rock bands.

Until I got Permission To Land.

The Darkness are probably the last “new” band (well, they’re only on album #4 now) to come out of the woodwork that I truly love (love being a big word). I’m also pleased that in 2015 they are back once again with a new lineup, album and tour.  The story of my Darkness discovery and eventual love was recounted in Record Store Tales Part 80.

A lot of people thought this album was a novelty; a spoof of 80’s metal like Steel Panther are today. They are dead wrong. While The Darkness have ample humour in their music (as did Aerosmith mind you) they are deadly serious as musicians. The guitar work here is quite excellent. You can literally hear Thin Lizzy dripping from the strings, and it doesn’t get any more serious guitar-wise than that. Justin Hawkins takes his vocals to an almost absurd length, but listen carefully. Listen to how cleanly he hit those notes back then. There are very few rock singers who can hit notes like that so consistently and cleanly. Everybody says, “Ahh, but he’s copying Freddie Mercury.” Well first of all, a) no he’s not, Freddie was a very different kind of singer, and b) anybody who can hit notes as cleanly as Freddie is worthy of praise, not derision.

Yes, the leotards are a bit much, but what about the songs?

The album is slightly better sound-wise than demo quality.  I think I read somewhere that Permission to Land is little more than an independent recording released by a major. The drum sound for example is thuddy and annoying. However it doesn’t matter, because these adrenaline-filled rockers don’t need embellishment. The band themselves are all the embellishment needed. 10 songs: four singles, and several great album cuts make this record a winner.

“Get Your Hands Off My Woman” is more than just the four-letter-word is was known for, a great little metal song with volume and unstoppable pace. Better still is “Growing On Me” which also had a great video. “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” is just a great, fun song period.  I had to have it played at my wedding, where I did the air guitar on the dance floor. There are ballads too — “Love Is Only A Feeling” is the power ballad that Steven Tyler wishes he wrote for the latest Michael Bay turd.

The album cuts are stellar, with “Black Shuck” leading the pack, which masters that AC/DC chug-a-lug. I love “Givin’ Up” as well, with its point-blank lyrics about drugs. I used to think it was a sarcastic look at drugs until Hawkins suffered from his own addictions, but it certainly can be interpreted as an anti-drug song. That’s the great thing about music.

After the success of Permission to Land, the band would grow perhaps a bit too fast for the fans to keep up with.  That’s OK though. It could have happened to Kiss too, when they did Destroyer. If the second album wasn’t your cup of tea, that’s alright. There were plenty of singles from this album, with great B-sides to collect.  Not to mention that the splendid Hot Cakes reunion album should be sampled by the curious.

Don’t underestimate The Darkness. They were, and remain, an underrated band who provide fun, fast licks, and fuckin’ high lead vocals in their rock and roll!

4/5 stars

Fuck iTunes, buy the CD and check out the action-packed booklet.  Just like rock bands used to do it.

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” (single)

THE DARKNESS“Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” (2003 Warner CD single)

The Darkness wins when it comes to Christmas songs.  Not content to rock up a classic, or write a crappy original, they did something that very few artists do:  They wrote an original Christmas tune as good as any of their prior singles.  For that reason, I heartily recommend “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” to discerning rock fans everywhere.   If you can’t find or don’t want the single, you can still get the track on the UK best-of compilation The Platinum Collection.

Even though the guitars are thicker than a good ol’ bowl of Thin Lizzy pudding, there is no mistaking this for anything but a Christmas song.   It is a joyous rock re-imagining of a Christmas carol, with the unmistakable Justin Hawkins falsetto.  It is incredibly difficult not to smile.  A suitably joyous music video was made for this song, featuring the band opening gifts from each other such as a double-neck guitar.


“You know those guitars that are like, double guitars?”

The B-side is a non-album track called “I Love You 5 Times”.  This slow ballad features Justin teasing like a purring cat, stuttering, and joking around.  It’s not one of their most outstanding songs, and wouldn’t make my own Darkness mix tape.  It is however a non-album Darkness song with a typically great guitar solo, so not completely a throw-away.  The A-side is the reason to get this single.

And that A-side is holly jolly good time.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Darkness – “The Horn” (2013 single)

NEW RELEASE

THE DARKNESS – “The Horn” (iTunes single)

It was with great excitement and anticipation that I hit ‘play’ on my brand new mp3 copy of “The Horn”, a new single from The Darkness.  Like much of the preceding album Hot Cakes, this is a dirty little number about (surprise) sex!

I would like to take this opportunity, to mention the fact that while some of the acts that I may have described in this song appear to be degrading, they were in fact consensual. — Justin Hawkins

I won’t share the details, except to say that the words “my pale buttocks” are uttered.

Musically, “The Horn” is heavy as…well, not quite as heavy as lead.  Platinum perhaps?  It has a merciless guitar riff, bloodthirsty drums, and a hefty groove.  Sonically speaking, “The Horn” strikes me as one of the heaviest Darkness songs.  The guitars have some chunkiness to them, and the direction seems simple enough: let’s rock out!   With Justin’s particular brand of lead vocal, there’s no mistaking this band for anyone else.

I would like to take this opportunity to mention that fact that Justin is still singing as great as ever.  He has a knack for some utterly odd vocals, but at the same time, he makes them awesome.  Acrobatic, never too serious, but always fascinating to listen to.  By the end of this song, I’m picturing a coop full of chickens singing in harmony.

This bodes well for a new Darkness album.  Not only are they quickly out of the gates with new material, but it’s really good material.  Without a doubt, I like “The Horn” better than many of the songs on Hot Cakes.  And I liked Hot Cakes a lot.

5/5 stars

There was a vinyl 7″ single, but only 500 copies.  There’s also a new Darkness demo out there, a ballad called “Second Fiddle” .  This song boasts multiple vocalists and an uber-catchy chorus:  “We are the Hawkins Brothers / And I am Frankie Poullaine / We are the Hawkins Brothers / And this is Eddie Graham.”  Solid!

More of The Darkness at mikeladano.com:

Hot Cakes (Deluxe Edition) + “Girlfriend” (10″ shaped disc) + “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (mp3 single) + Hot Leg – Red Light Fever + The Stone Gods – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones + Record Store Tales Part 80: The Darkness

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Girlfriend” 10″ shaped disc

THE DARKNESS – “Girlfriend” (2005 Warner 10″ star-shaped picture disc)

I fuckin’ love this song.  It’s not in any way typical of the music I normally like.  Maybe it’s the expertly arranged backing orchestra.  Maybe it’s Justin Hawkins’ ever more ridiculous falsetto.  Maybe it’s the key-tar solo.  Maybe it’s the sheer joie de vivre of the thing.  Whatever it is, I heartily endorse the album version of this fun, frivolous tribute to the 1980’s.

There were (I think?) four remixes of this single done, and this 10″ contains two of them.  Usually I’m well on record for disliking remixes, and the “Space Cowboy Hard & Fast Remix” is a good example of why.  It’s repetitive, and congested with noise, burying the killer hooks of the song.  One of the only things I like about the remix is that it brings out Richie Edwards’ bass a lot more, helping to humanize its robotic nature.  There’s also a moment at about the 4 minute mark with the orchestra section isolated, and I like that.

The better remix is “The Freelance Hellraiser ‘Screaming Jay Hawkins’ Remix”, whatever the hell that means.  This one featurings a backwards vocal hook, and all the familiar elements rearranged, creating what essentially sounds like an original song.  This one delivers plenty of catchy bits here and there, familiar but presented in new surroundings.  This is what I would call a great remix.

What’s the score, then?  Well, mathematically, this one works out to:

3.333~/5 stars

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (2004 mp3 single)

GYHOMWATHE DARKNESS – “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (2004 Atlantic mp3 single)

After the surprise hit Permission To Land (which was essentially just a released demo) The Darkness were determined to make a better sounding second album.  At first it was announced they were going to be working with one Mutt Lange; that didn’t pan out.  Up next was Roy Thomas Baker, of Queen fame.

Their first released collaboration was a re-recording of “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” re-titled “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again”.  It differs only slightly from the original.  Better sounding bass, better sounding drums, but almost identical otherwise.  There are only two moments were the song deviates from the original:  a 5 second piano break at 1:54, and a different, more abrupt ending.

This was released November 8 2004, for one month only, for 99p on the official Darkness site.   Since then I understand it’s been very difficult to find online.  I like when bands release stuff like this, even though for most people it’s fairly redundant.  A lot of bands test the waters by re-recording older material, Axl’s done that and so have others.  When they make it available for almost nothing for a limited time, sure, I’ll bite.  It’s a kind of immediate release that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Not to mention that this is just one of the Darkness’ best songs, ever.  Gratuitous language, hot riffs, screeching high vocals, ripping solos, and hooks for miles.  I was sold on the original song on first listen.  As for this re-recorded update, I like the better quality sound, but I don’t like the piano break or the ending.  Great tune, great sonics thanks to RTB, but I’ll stick with the original!

3.5/5 stars

Since you can’t take a picture of a non-physical product, here’s the CD single that I burned!

REVIEW: The Stone Gods – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones (2008)

THE STONE GODS – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones (2008)

…and from the ashes of the beast came The Stone Gods, and they did lay waste to the land.

The “beast” from whose ashes that the Gods rose was The Darkness, an extremely talented band who were looked upon (either fairly or unfairly, you decide) as a novelty act. They split into two camps with singer Justin Hawkins forming the very Darkness-sounding Hot Leg. The rest of the band (guitarist and brother Dan Hawkins, drummer Ed Graham, and bassist Richie Edwards) stuck it out and renamed themselves The Stone Gods. Edwards, a fine singer in his own right, dropped the bass and became the frontman. New member Toby MacFarlaine was brought in on bass.

What makes this band special is twofold. First, there is the undeniable writing talents of Dan and the band, proving that Justin was not the be-all and end-all of the Darkness. Two is the voice of Richie Edwards. He truly has his own unique voice, something unusual in today’s soundalike music scene. It is part Bon Scott, part Halford, with a little bit of early raspy Joe Elliot thrown in, and 100% awesome. As a frontman, he was no Justin, but who is?

The band themselves stuck solidly to a heavy metal direction. Ed Graham plays his trademark caveman drum fills and it fits like a glove. Dan’s guitar howls and shrieks like a thing possessed. Above it all, Richie wails. These are heavy metal songs. You won’t mistake that right from the opening metal riffage of “Burn The Witch”. And you can’t mistake these lyrics for anything but pure rock.

My friends have all joined the rat race
It’s all suits, shirts and novelty ties
I’m not a fan of retirement plans
I refuse to change my way of life

Just about every song here is a winner, very few losers. It is important to note, however, that the album takes a turn for the lighter around the halfway point. Indeed, the first three songs are a pure metal bludgeon, after that, some more early-Def Leppard moments are thrown in (“Making It Hard”). However it is never out of place, never too soft, never embarrassing  It is simply a good, well rounded rock album with light and shade.

It’s great that The Darkness are back together, and I rated Hot Cakes very highly.  I do miss these guys though.  A second album would have been something.

4.5/5stars