the darkness

#729.4: LeBrain’s Unorthodox Top 10 of 2018

Given everything that happened in 2018 (cancer, more cancer, death), I wasn’t as tuned-in to rock and roll as I normally would be.  I missed a lot of new releases, some on purpose, others by accident.  Therefore, this year I’m doing something different from my Top Lists of 2018.  Before we get to the lists, let’s talk about the past 12 months.


2018: RELEASES IN A NUTSHELL

January saw new CDs by Joe Satriani and Corrosion of Conformity, finally reunited with Pepper Keenan on vocals.  There was new Loudness, and a release by Beth Hart & Joe BonamassaDef Leppard had a low-key EP exclusive to iTunes (The Lost Session).  In February we got the return of the mighty Saxon.  March was a big month, featuring Judas Priest, Stone Temple Pilots, Jack White and Myles Kennedy.  The rock kept rolling in April.  The big metal one here was Stryper‘s God Damn Evil, along with new Godsmack and Thirty Seconds to Mars.  During this time I was personally only able to get the Stryper and Priest.

As temperatures warmed in May, Bad Wolves came out with their novelty cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries which became a predictable hit.  Frank Turner and Five Finger Death Punch also released new records in May.  News in June was unfortunately dominated by Kanye West and Drake, but don’t forget Ghost, The Darkness (with their first live) and Nine Inch Nails!  In July, Halestorm came out with the critically acclaimed ViciousAlice in Chains made their long awaited return in August with Rainier Fog, an album I bought but have not yet fully penetrated.

Autumn began with the biggest name in rock and roll, Sir Paul McCartney himself.  SlashPaul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and Suicidal Tendencies had records out on the same day.  VoiVod, Therapy?, Metric and even Rod Stewart returned in September as well.  October featured two big soundtracks:  Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is BornAce Frehley, Greta Van Fleet, and The Struts came out with new music the same month.  In November we got Mark Knopfler, the Smashing Pumpkins, Ted Nugent and yet another live Beth Hart.  The month closed with the latest Def Leppard best-of.  December boasted Metal Church but not a lot of rock.  Thank the Metal Gods that Max the Axe swooped in with Status Electric to save the year.


I spent most of 2018 checked out mentally.  I missed most of the new releases and have a lot to catch up on.  The summer was spent on Highway 401, and a flash drive loaded with music helped me survive it.  New releases were not the be-all and end-all for me.  Therefore, my Top Albums of 2018 list includes some oldies that just helped me get through it all.  It seems right to do it this way, since I can’t really do a well-curated list of new releases without absorbing them properly.

TOP 10 ALBUMS THAT GOT ME THROUGH 2018

  1. Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)
  2. Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)
  3. Ghost – Prequelle (2018)
  4. The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith  (2018)
  5. Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)
  6. Blotto – Tonight At Toad’s (1982)
  7. Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)
  8. Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson & Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)
  9. The Sword – Used Future (2018)
  10. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  1. Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)
  2. Hello Hopeless – Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures (2018)
  3. Mike Slayen – Dude: A Guitar CD (2018)

TOP MOVIES OF 2018

Can’t do a movie list this year.  Not possible.  I didn’t see ’em all, but one movie blew away all the rest.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

A PEEK AT 2019

What’s hot for 2019?

  1. Star Wars:  Episode IX
  2. Motley Crue‘s long awaited movie The Dirt, and new songs too.
  3. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
  4. Avengers:  Endgame
  5. Queensryche – The Verdict

Stay tuned….

 

 

 

#721: Christmas Mix 2010

GETTING MORE TALE #721: Christmas Mix 2010

Making mix CDs was a lot of fun (and work).  I used to make custom Christmas discs that didn’t suck, for my family and friends every year.  Why did I stop?  I ran out of good Christmas songs.  Let’s face it:  unless you’re one of “those” people, Christmas music is nails on a chalkboard.  You can only take so much.  If you’ve worked retail in the past (or present), you probably can’t take any at all!

2010’s Christmas CD is a good example of what I used to make.  You’ll notice there’s no Trans-Siberian Orchestra on there.  I used up all their best stuff on the previous instalments.  I tried to avoid duplicating songs from previous years although Hawksley Workman’s Christmas album is so good that I made exceptions for him.  Hawkley’s Almost A Full Moon is the best Christmas CD that I own, and probably the best one I’ve heard.  I bought it twice.  He reissued the album after only a year with two extra songs!  I forgave him, because Almost A Full Moon is so warm and perfect.

What do you think of the Christmas 2010 CD?  Would you have wanted a copy that year?

1. Bill Ward – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  Yes, that Bill Ward!  The Black Sabbath drummer did a spoken word recording of the classic Christmas poem, and I opened the CD with it.  I can tell you that when we played the CD at dinner time, this track was a failure.  Nobody paid attention.

2. Kathryn Ladano – “Jingle Bells”.  I got their attention back by putting on a track by my sister.  This instrumental version on bass clarinet is from her CD The Christmas Album.  Of note, her Schnauzer Ali is credited for barks on “Jingle Bells”!

3. Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Billy F. Gibbons – “Run Rudolph Run”.  This breakneck Christmas carol is done in the Motorhead style.  I played it in the car for sis.  “This is shit!” she proclaimed.  “Why do these guys get to put out albums and not me?”

4. Marillion – “Let It Snow”.  This drunken favourite is from 2007’s Somewhere Elf.  The spirit is intoxicating, as I’m sure they were!

Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

5. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”.  This is the David Bowie song that your grandma likes.  It’s just lovely.  I didn’t own anything with this song on it, so I had to download.  That’s why it didn’t appear until 2010!

6. Helix – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”.  Yes, it rocks, but not too hard!  Helix covered Lennon for their Heavy Metal Christmas.  Singer Brian Vollmer is trained in the Bel Canto technique and he’s more than capable of singing songs for your Christmas dinner in mind.

7. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”.  My mom always liked Extreme, or “Nick Strean” as she thought they were called.  This isn’t the greatest Christmas song in the world, but it doesn’t suck.

8. Hawskley Workman – “3 Generations”.  Told you there would be some Hawksley.  This touching song is about three generations of women in the kitchen making Christmas dinner together.

9. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”.  I must have downloaded this one too.  I am a bit of a sucker for Elvis.  I included Joe Perry’s instrumental version on a previous CD.

10. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”.  Not one of their best songs, but it’s the Beatles so it had to be included eventually.  This version comes from the 1995 CD single for “Free As a Bird”.  Relatively few have heard it, and I thought that would get people’s ears perked up, but by this time, the wine was out….

11. Steve Vai – “Christmas Time is Here”.  This is from the first Merry Axemas.  It’s a lovely track and not too shreddy.  Remember this song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special?  Steve does it on guitar, of course!

12. Jethro Tull – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”.  This funky flute version will get the toes tappin’.  Hard to believe that this is from Tull’s final studio album in 2003, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album!  It would have been nice to get one more, but Tull’s Christmas Album is a good one to have around.  If you need to tolerate Christmas music, you may as well listen to Tull jamming it out.

13. Brian Vollmer – “The First Noel”.  Helix’s Vollmer put out a rare charity album in 2005 called Raising the Roof on Mary Immaculate.  “The First Noel” is one of the best tracks.  Vollmer is the first artist to get two appearances on my CD.

14. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”.  Much like “Run Rudolph Run”, this one smokes!  It’s a guitar instrumental at full speed.  Grandma didn’t like this one.

15. Twisted Sister – “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  I really don’t like the Twisted Christmas album.  This song was a hit though, and since it’s virtually identical to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can…errr…take it.

16. Cheap Trick – “Come On Christmas”.  My sister was a huge Cheap Trick fan at one point.  She had this song before I did.  Essentially just a Cheap Trick pop rocker with Christmas lyrics.  Sounds like classic Cheap Trick to me.

17. AC/DC – “Mistress For Christmas”.  I put this song on as the joke it is.  I like to remind people that AC/DC did have a Christmas song.  “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the day.  I can’t wait to Christmas time, when I roll you in the hay.”  Hey, it counts.

18. The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)“.  In my review, I said, “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.”  Plus, sis likes The Darkness.

19. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas”.  I like this one.  Fuck off.

20. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”.  From an EP called Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Jimi and band jammed out some impressive licks but the dinner party didn’t enjoy.

21. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”.  Cuddy’s solo debut All In Time is tremendous CD and comes highly recommended by this guy right here.  It’s like listening to a Blue Rodeo album, but only the Jim songs.  The sentimental “New Year’s Eve” is a lovely ballad that fits right in with the Christmas theme.

22. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  You gotta end with a classic.  From 1981’s The Great White North comes the big Christmas hit.  We used to hear this every single year on my mom’s old clock radio.  We’d squeal with laughter trying to sing along.  “A beer…in a tree…”

 

How would you rate this one?  Trying to avoid overlap was previous instalments was my Achilles’ heel.  I’d swap out a lot of the lesser songs for better ones, but it’s not bad.  It’s listenable.  It’ll do.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith (2018)

THE DARKNESS – Live at Hammersmith (2018 Canary Dwarf)

“Gimme a D!  Gimme an arkness!”  It’s long overdue, but the world is now the better for it:  the first live album by The Darkness!  Including a few quality B-sides, The Darkness had enough strong songs for a live album back in 2006.  Time waits for no band, but now they’ve got an even hotter selection of hits and deep cuts to draw from, and Live at Hammersmith boasts 19 of ’em on a single CD.  Sorry Japan, no bonus tracks for you.

All five Darkness albums and some classic non-LP singles are sourced, and what a collection it is.  A lot of the newer material on stage consist of the heaviest songs:  “Buccaneers of Hispaniola”, “Southern Trains” and “Barbarian” are like lead, but propelled at the speed of sound!  The oldies span all shades of Darkness, from the hardest cut stones (“Black Shuck”) to the cushioning of a ballad (“Love is Only a Feeling”).

It seems to be, by and large, all the best stuff.  “Givin’ Up”, “Growing On Me”, “One Way Ticket”, “Friday Night”, and the two big hits “Get Your Hands off My Woman” and “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” are present and accounted for.  The last three albums are also represented, and as good as they are, it’s the old stuff that thrills most.

That includes “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” from this seasonal Hammersmith gig.  Maybe it’s those giant dual guitars, but this one has always seemed to work all year ’round.  It’s just a glorified Thin Lizzy riff with a high-pitched singer, and that works winter, spring, summer and fall.

Speaking of the singer, Justin Hawkins has maintained his one-of-a-kind voice and range over all these years, unlike virtually every other homo sapiens on the planet.  Let’s start a conspiracy theory right here that he is an alien, because the voice is just inhuman.

Would have loved “Last of Our Kind”, though that’s a minor complaint.

Hammersmith fell to the Darkness that night.  Now you can relive it in your headphones, or home theatre, as it were.

4.5/5 stars

 

#684: Can Helium Make Me a Better Singer?

GETTING MORE TALE #684: Can Helium Make Me a Better Singer?

Short answer:  No.

Slightly longer answer:  Below.

 

Want to know more about the element helium (He)? Then watch Sir Martyn Poliakoff’s excellent video. He does not approve of how I wasted helium!

 

Want the real song? Here you go.

#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

#459.3: 2015 Year-End Lists, part 3 – LeBrain!

GETTING MORE TALE #459.3:
2015 Year-End Lists, part 3 – yours truly, LeBrain!

Unlike my companions in rock, Tom and Uncle Meat, I’m going to be a bit more verbose here with my top lists of 2015.

I thought I had my top five albums down.  I didn’t expect any changes, but then a couple respected writers started praising the new Def Leppard album.  I decided, against my better judgement to go ahead and buy it.  What can I say?  Those reviewers were right.  It’s a good album.  Def Leppard 2015 cracked my top five list, necessitating a top six.

LeBRAIN’S TOP SIX(!) ALBUMS of 2015

6. Def Leppard – Def Leppard
5. Stealth – …listen
4. Queensryche – Condition Hüman
3. The Darkness – Last of Our Kind
2. Faith No More – Sol Invictus
1. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

2015

LeBRAIN’S TOP FIVE TV SHOWS of 2015

I actually watched enough TV this year to make up a list!

5. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
4. The Big Bang Theory
3. Star Wars: Rebels
2. Better Call Saul
1. American Dad!

BIG BANG

LeBRAIN’S TOP MOVIES of 2015

As far as I know, only one movie came out this year, right?

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

FORCE

2015 IN SUM

The high quality of new albums by returning bands continues to amaze me.  The last band I expected a quality album from this year was Def Leppard.  Of course, on the flip side of that, we have Bon Jovi who choked to death on pop dreck.  Given what was coming out this year, and what the stakes were (a possible final album from Iron Maiden, the first Faith No More CD in 18 years), you couldn’t have realistically hoped for better than we got.  Meanwhile on the new music front, it is hard to find a better debut than …listen, by Stealth.  Not rock in any way, but more mind-expanding than anything else I heard in 2015.

And talk about high stakes on the movie front!  The most anticipated movie of all time is going to be the most successful movie of all time, thanks to it pushing all the right buttons while moving the story into its next phase.  Because of my wife’s health condition (epilepsy) I don’t go out to movies very often, preferring to wait for the blu-ray.  Age of Ultron and Ant-Man pleased me immensely.  But worth more than just an honourable mention is Mad Mad: Fury Road.  Unlike Star Wars, Mad Max rebooted while going off into a startling new direction.  It was probably the most impressive film of the year…but even so, my 2015 was only about Star Wars.  Just trust me — see Mad Max: Fury Road.  See it many times.

Finally:  Rest in peace Lemmy Kilmister, Philthy Animal Taylor (that’s 2/3rds of the classic Motorhead lineup, wiped out), Scott Weiland, Chris Squire, Ornette Coleman, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge, A.J. Pero, Andy Fraser, and of course, B.B. King.

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

fnm

 

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