Frankie Poullaine

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

 

 

Advertisements

REVIEW: The Darkness – Last of Our Kind (Christmas deluxe edition)

NEW RELEASE

Last review before Christmas!


 

Scan_20151221THE DARKNESS – Last of Our Kind (2015 Canary Dwarf deluxe holiday edition)

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.

4.5/5 stars

Japanese version:

Merry Christmas, and stay safe!

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 – “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!