Pinewood Smile

#947: Last Of Our Kind

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 80:  The Darkness

 

RECORD STORE TALES #947: Last Of Our Kind

By the time that I decided “enough with the bullshit” and quit the Record Store at the end of 2005, The Darkness were truly one of my favourite bands.

The band’s newest album One Way Ticket To Hell…and Back was really resonating with me.  It was the kind of triumphant rock that felt appropriate as I started my new life, post-store.  Uplifting.  Carefree.  Nostalgic.  I had a Darkness shirt with their logo in silver scroll.  I was downloading rare live tracks from Limewire and buying imported singles.  All the stuff that properly qualifies a person as a “fan”, but with the additional emotional kick that this was “my” band.  I didn’t know anyone else who liked them.  Well, there was one.  I had just met Jen, my future wife.  In her CD collection was a copy of Permission to Land.

Two weeks after quitting the store I was back in the workforce.  I had what I wanted:  a boring job!  There were several days straight of just make photocopies.  Nobody to talk to, and with the clanky-clank of the copying drowning me out, I passed the time by singing.  Specifically, I sang my favourite Darkness tunes.

The most attractive tunes have the biggest and most bombastic choruses it seems.  Huge drum fills, big multi-layered vocals, and all the trimmings.  Songs like “Dinner Lady Arms”.

I used to be able to come close to hitting the notes. Just approximating the correct intonation, because who the fuck cared? Nobody could hear me.

Also on the playlist:  “Hazel Eyes”, “One Way Ticket”, “Growing On Me”, “Givin’ Up”, and “Friday Night”.

I made a Darkness “Greatest Hits” CD with all those tracks, a bunch of great B-sides, and couple bootleg live tracks.  The best of which was a ragged live take of “Givin’ Up”, sadly now lost.  That’s the problem with downloads.  In the golden glow of memory, it was the best version of the song ever!

Sadly, the Darkness were hitting a rough patch.  Justin Hawkins went to rehab to clean up, and then quit the band afterwards.  In shock, the band looked inward to new bassist Richie Edwards (who replaced original Frankie Poullain).  His surprisingly powerful rasp was perfect for a new start.  They reconfigured themselves as the heavier Stone Gods, while Justin launched his new band Hot Leg.  In this battle, Hot Leg sounded more like the Darkness, while the Stone Gods had a stronger album in hand.

Lineup changes continued to ensue.  Original Darkness drummer Ed Graham left the Stone Gods due to ill health, and was replaced by Robin Goodridge, formerly of Bush.  This left guitarist Dan Hawkins as the only Stone Gods member that had been in the Darkness.  Regardless, they managed to record a second, more stripped down album.  This second album was never released, because suddenly in 2011, the original lineup of the Darkness was back!

The comeback album Hot Cakes returned the band to their classic sound.  Most importantly, it was only the first in a series of great albums, the best of which might be 2015’s Last of Our Kind. The title track of which is the most quintessentially “Darkness” of any song they have released since their debut.  The music video features Justin Hawkins at his most Freddie, and a new drummer:  Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger.  Talk about rock royalty!

Not to ignore the important contributions of Emily Dolan Davies, who played drums on the album and in the music video for “Open Fire”.  As an in-demand session drummer, Davies was praised by Justin as having “revitalized” the band with her hard-hitting style.  Since her departure, Rufus has held down the drum stool on Pinewood Smile, Easter is Cancelled and the forthcoming Motorheart.

That’s right.  The Darkness have a new album coming.  They may or may not have doomed us to a long pandemic with the prophetic Easter is Cancelled, but they sure are going to rock us anyway.

Long live The Darkness!

#626.4: The Big Lists of 2017 Part Four: LeBrain brings the reign

LeBrain’s Top Lists for 2017

2017 was, from almost every angle, a shit year.  Another onslaught of losses in music, entertainment and sports (another list on its own).  2017 was as devastating as 2016, but perhaps all that loss was turned into musical dividends.  Before the year was even half over, I had already found my #1 album of 2017 from a surprising corner.  I knew as soon as I heard it that it was something remarkable.  I pencilled it into the #1, wondering who would topple it.  Over the months, no-one did.  Though my annual Top Five Albums list was not finalised until last week, the #1 album never changed.

Before we get to albums, however, let’s check out some winners in other categories!

BEST BOX SET

MAX WEBSTER – The Party

I put my reputation on the line when I recommended The Party to everyone I knew.  I only got good reviews in return.  For the record, it was our own Uncle Meat, back in July, who broke the news of this box set.  He knows someone involved with the remastering and was aware of the project well before the public was.  Though the packaging was bare bones, the reissue otherwise hits all the bases.

BEST REISSUE

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria 30th anniversary edition

What was probably my #1 album for Christmas 1987 is my favourite reissue in 2017.  In a year featuring fantastic reissues by Marillion (Misplaced Childhood) and Whitesnake (1987), none brought me back in time like Leppard’s Hysteria did.

 


TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2017

In case you doubt, check out Deke’s list over at “Arena Rock”.  One of my favourite rock scribes agrees with me on most of these releases.  ‘Twas Deke who turned me onto the #5 album — thanks bud.

Normally I exclude live albums from my lists, but this has been a special year.

 

5 1/2 IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter

5. STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash

4. ALICE COOPER – Paranormal

3. THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile

2. GRETA VAN FLEET – From the Fires

1. STYX – The Mission

I haven’t cared so much about Styx since I was 10 years old!  What an incredible album The Mission is.  And I’m counting it as CanCon, because of singer/pianist Lawrence Gowan (but you can call him Larry).


 

Other fun categories!

BEST NEW ARTIST – Greta Van Fleet

BEST SOUNDTRACK – John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOCIAL MEDIA – Michael Sweet (Stryper)

BEST ARTWORK – Deep Purple, for InFinite

MOST IMPROVED BEHAVIOUR – W. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)

BEST COMEBACK – Quiet Riot, for Road Rage

BEST GUITARIST – Tom Morello (Prophets of Rage)

BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Gene Simmons (KISS)

SECOND BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Kid Rock

BIGGEST MISTAKE – Black Sabbath and Bill Ward not playing together at all before The End, a wasted opportunity to set things right.

 

REVIEW: The Darkness – Pinewood Smile (2017 Japanese 15 track edition)

THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile (2017 Canary Dwarf Japanese printing)

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.

4/5 stars