One of the songs/videos that came up in our chat was their epic rocking “Last Of Our Kind”, certainly one of the best songs in their repertoire. What a striking video, and their first with drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor. Emily Dolan Davies played on the record and in the first video for “Open Fire” but left to be replaced by Taylor. He found his own way to stand out visually, as you’ll see.
It’s unusual but not unheard of for bands to recruit their fans as extras. But nobody did it like the Darkness. This video is a hoot, and there’s one somewhat bulky man in a Darkness shirt who hams it up and steals the show.
I have a a couple favourite parts in this video:
0:38 – Mystical Frankie 1:13 – Spinny spinny! 1:34 – 1:38 – “Then there were none”
The whole video is brilliant and we really need to give a shout out to Justin Hawkins for his dancing. The man can move. He can sing, he can play, and he can move! If he wasn’t so damned ugly they’d be the biggest band in the world.
What a fun night! Grant Arthur and I went through our favourite Darkness tracks, album by album and single by single. Then Tim Durling showed up and the rocking really began. An absolutely fun night, educational, and a total love affair for Dan, Justin, Frankie, Rufus, Richie, Eddie and Emily. We also delved into Hot Leg, the Stone Gods, and British Whale. Get rocked!
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.
The Darkness have a new album coming out called Motorheart. This week the band released a rather unique lyric video for a new song called “Nobody Can See Me Cry”. Most lyric videos you see today are still pictures or slight animations. This one isn’t. It’s just a continuous moving single camera shot of the four Darkness members crying. You gotta give guitarist Dan Hawkins credit in this one for going all out with the blubbering. A smoke machine is added for effect and bassist Frankie Poullain fights to keep the tears at bay.
Sounds like a pretty heavy album is coming our way. Get ready Darkness fans!
THE DARKNESS – Easter is Cancelled(2019 Canary Dwarf, Japanese release)
I’m baffled. I’m truly baffled this time, and I’ve followed The Darkness through thick and thin! From brightest days to darkest nights. From Stone Gods to Hot Leg. And for the first time, The Darkness have thrown me for a loop.
Easter is Cancelled sounds like their rock opera, their big concept album, with gentle acoustics turning into loud bombast. It looks brilliant on paper, but in practice it sounds more like Tenacious D. That’s it — this isn’t a Darkness album. This is what the D should have released instead of whatever Post-Apocalypto was.
Where I used to shout with glee as one gleaming riff gave way to another and then another, now I hear only fragments. Only portions of great tunes, not completely brilliant tracks front to back. The top track is actually one of the bonus songs, called “Different Eyes”. The guitar work on Easter Is Cancelled is consistently stunning, at least.
This review has been painfully hard to write. I take no pleasure in this. It took months of agonising to get here. I don’t want to hate The Darkness. I want to embrace them — all four of them! — with open arms and heart. Perhaps one day, I will again. With all due apologies to Justin, Dan, Frankie and Rufus, this one wasn’t for me.
I would be neglecting my rock and roll duty if I didn’t report on the Japanese bonus track, “Dancing House”. It’s only a minute long and it’s…umm…about people dropping in for a party. It sounds like bad B-52’s. Really bad B-52’s. I cannot discern its purpose or reason to exist.
BRITISH WHALE – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 Atlantic CD single)
In 2005, while we anxiously awaited a new Darkness album (and they changed producers from “Mutt” Lange to Roy Thomas Baker), Justin Hawkins decided to do something on his own. The rumour mill was going on about how the new Darkness was going to be an 80s-fest. Justin’s solo single under the name British Whale certainly conveyed that sound.
“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both Of Us” is a Sparks cover, previously tackled by Faith No More. The original track was from 1974, but Justin’s rendition really did sound like the 80s. Russell Mael’s high pitched vocal was exaggerated by Justin, with the cheese-whiz poured on thick. It’s the kitchen sink approach. But a classic pop song cannot be sunk and it’s quite listenable. Faith No More’s cover would win in a one-on-one competition, but Darkness fans will obviously want to hear Justin’s take. The music video was popular because it featured world darts champion Phil Taylor (no relation to the Motorhead drummer). Some fans expressed disappointment that the music video wasn’t included on the single, but in 2019 it matters not. (The video was included on a DVD single, along with a “making of”, but that DVD did not include the B-side “America”.)
Perhaps better than the A-side is the more Darkness-like B-side. It’s a tribute to the USA, its weather, and trees. According to “America”, Justin really likes the scenery! He sounds very sincere in his high-pitched praise. There’s gui-board (or “keytar”) and a guitar solo that sounds like a cross between Brian May and Thin Lizzy. It’s a bit of goofy fun. Actually an excellent track, even containing some music from the “Star Spangled Banner” in the well-constructed solo.
These two songs really seem to convey that Justin really wanted to have some fun, blowing off steam with pop music in 2005. In a way these songs are “peak Justin”. You just can’t imagine anything more Justin than this! (British Whale did another single called “England” in 2006 that never saw a physical release but we’ll cover that another time.)
British Whale can be bought on CD for ridiculously low prices. If you’re a Darkness fan, you have no excuse. Dive on in!
It was eleven years ago this weekend that life changed forever.
On August 31 2008, I dressed up in a tux, gathered a hundred of our closest family and friends, and got married. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
We didn’t get to celebrate ten years. At this time last year, Jen’s mom was terminally ill. We were at her bedside. I know what she would have said to us if she knew what day it was. “You guys go out, have a nice dinner, on me. Enjoy yourselves.” That’s just who she was. But we didn’t feel much like eating or celebrating.
I think “mum” would appreciate that this year, we are going to celebrate #11. We’re going to remember her, and we’re going to be thankful that we have each other. Making #11 our year to celebrate seems appropriate for us; we’re the couple that is 1) always late, and 2) rarely doing anything the “normal” way.
In order to do things right, I’ll be taking a break from mikeladano.com but we will all re-convene back here after Labour Day.
It’s a well deserved break! We have some general ideas but the plan is just to take it easy and go with the flow. I just bought a 2 terabyte external hard drive, so I’ll actually be able to take all my music with me, in the car and on the laptop. I couldn’t do that eleven years ago!
Here are some songs that mean the most to Jen and I. Turn ’em up and we’ll catch up again next week.
It started with Stompin’ Tom. I think I had told her that I had a stack of new movies, a huge bag of chips & a case of Red Bull, and was ready for the weekend or something. She responded, “Sounds like you’re ready for a Sudbury Saturday Night.” So right then and there, boom! She was speaking my language.
The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
I was into The Darkness in a big way. As told in Record Store Tales Part 80, these guys were absolutely one of my favourites when we met. “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was a major feature at the wedding reception.
Guns N’ Roses – “Patience”
This was one of Jen’s favourites from the reception. When it played, all the couples slow-danced together. She thought it was a really sweet moment, and a lot of those couples are still couples today!
The Beatles – “Revolution”
When I asked Jen to pick a song she liked, this was the first one she named.
Van Halen – “Why Can’t This Be Love”
Before we met, Jen actively disliked Van Halen (classic rock in general). Today this is one of her favourite songs. Rock radio had a lot to do with that.
Neil Peart – “The Hockey Theme”
Before I met Jen, I’d never heard this theme in my life. Today, I can name pretty much every Maple Leaf and dozens of other players too. I can’t believe she’s done this to me! But don’t you dare call me a “hockey fan”.
The Traveling Wilburys – “Handle With Care”
No story, we just love this song.
Johnny Cash – “In My Life”
I’m sure everybody plays this at their weddings, don’t they? We knew that, so we chose Johnny Cash’s version. Let me tell you, that was a really cool moment, in the church signing the registry to this song. I hope my buddy Tom appreciated that, being such a huge Cash fan. I was psyched for him to hear it at a wedding instead of the usual.
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.
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.