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:
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.
The 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”.