richie edwards

#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!

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

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

…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 in twain, 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.

The lead single “Burn The Witch” was shocking in its metal ferocity.  This was not expected from 3/4 of the Darkness.

What made this band special is twofold. First, the undeniable writing talents of Dan and the band, proving that Justin was not the be-all and end-all of the Darkness.  Second, 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?  (Nobody!)

The band stuck solidly to a hard rock/heavy metal direction.  Ed Graham’s got his trademark cave-man drum fills, and it fits like a glove.  Dan’s guitar howls and shrieks like a thing possessed.  Above it all, Richie wails.  These songs rock.  Some, like “Defend or Die” and “Burn the Witch” are scorchers.  Others are hard rock classics.  Three tracks in particular fully qualify as Darkness-level rock anthems.  “Where You Comin’ From”, “Start of Something”, and “Wasting Time” each boast numerous hooks and arena-level choruses.  A track like “Wasting Time” has suitable weekend-ready lyrics.

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; no 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, a few 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 time.  A well-rounded rock album with fists-a-flying, then a smoke break, and then some ass-kicking.  If you’re wondering why it sounds so good, I blame Canadian engineer Mike Fraser, who just nailed it.

Shortly after the album’s release, Ed Graham departed and was replaced by Robin Goodridge of Bush fame.  That’s him in the video for “Start of Something”. This great lineup recorded a yet-to-released second album.  But the Hawkins brothers could not be kept apart.  Robin returned to Bush, and the Darkness have enjoyed a very successful second era with brothers Dan and Justin back in action together once again.

Dan has indicated that the second Stone Gods album will eventually see release. If so, then this debut truly was the “Start of Something”.

5/5stars

 

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 – “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