the stone gods

REVIEW: Hot Leg – Red Light Fever (2009)

HOT LEG FRONT

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.

TAKE TAKE TAKEThe 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”.

4/5 stars

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

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

…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 into two camps 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.

What makes this band special is twofold. First, there is the undeniable writing talents of Dan and the band, proving that Justin was not the be-all and end-all of the Darkness. Two is 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?

The band themselves stuck solidly to a heavy metal direction. Ed Graham plays his trademark caveman drum fills and it fits like a glove. Dan’s guitar howls and shrieks like a thing possessed. Above it all, Richie wails. These are heavy metal songs. You won’t mistake that right from the opening metal riffage of “Burn The Witch”. And you can’t mistake these lyrics for anything but pure rock.

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, very few 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, some more 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, well rounded rock album with light and shade.

It’s great that The Darkness are back together, and I rated Hot Cakes very highly.  I do miss these guys though.  A second album would have been something.

4.5/5stars

REVIEW: The Darkness – Hot Cakes (deluxe edition)

I wanna dedicate this review to Patrick from Dave Nation, a regular reader and Darkness fan!

THE DARKNESS – Hot Cakes (Deluxe edition with 4 bonus tracks, 2012 Canary Dwarf Ltd.)

The Darkness are probably the band that came out in the last decade that I truly love most.  Something about this band just makes me feel GOOD.  They always have.  I love this band, much to the consternation of some of the people I used to work for at the record store!  I love this band, so I worked their music into our wedding reception, and played a shitload of air guitar to it!  I just love this band.

I loved the Stone Gods too.  But this is the original Darkness:  Dan, Justin, Ed and Frankie.

At first I was kind of “blah” to the idea of an original lineup reunion.  I liked Richie Edwards just fine too.  But Frankie co-writes a number of these tracks, and he has a great stage presence.  As for Ed, his trademark drum fills might not be Neil Peart material but he has his own identifiable sound, and his fills are always dead-on perfect for what the songs need.  Play air drums to The Darkness some time, you’ll see what I mean!

To get to the point, though:  Hot Cakes?  It’s magically delicious!

If you didn’t like their second album, the arguably over-elaborate One Way Ticket, then you’ll be happy with Hot Cakes.  They’ve brought things back to the basics of guitars, bass, and drums with only the odd embellishment along the way.

But the lyrics are certainly not toned down!

Every man, woman and chile wants to…

SUCK MY COCK!!!!!

Justin’s lost nothing.  He’s still bonkshit!* Except maybe just a hint (just a hint!) of his high voice.  Or maybe it’s just the production that make it seem that way.  It might even be my imagination.  So who cares?  And to sing and play lead guitar and run around like Steven Tyler?  That can’t be easy either!

The majority of songs here are great, and would make my road tape.  Much like the first and second albums, there are songs that I keep coming back to over and over again.  You become attached to certain hooks in them and then suddenly, BAM!  The song is stuck in your head!  Examples of this:

“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” – Great fast catchy Darkness single, with one of their classic sounding choruses.

“With A Woman” – Simple, basic AC/DC rocker but with Justin’s flare and yet another catchy chorus.

“Everybody Have A Good Time” – “Come on people, tell me how you feel. You want a good time? Well you got yourself a deal!”  Along the blueprints of the feel-good tunes from the first album.

“She Just A Girl, Eddie” – Tied for best song on the album.  This is the one I can play 10 times in a row and still hit repeat (usually in the car).  As for the lyrics?  “There are four billion other girls, who want to make love to you.”  Eddie can’t argue with that math.  And speaking of Eddie, Ed’s drum fills are what I was talking about earlier — simple, powerful, perfect.

“Concrete” – Solid, riff-based song with great high Justin vocal.  Catchy as hell.

“Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – Holy.  Shit.

On the negatives:  The album somewhat follows the blueprint of the first one.  For example a ballad, “Living Each Day Blind” falls on track #5, the same place that the similar sounding “Love Is Only A Feeling” was on Permission To Land.  At times it gets predictable, but thankfully the song quality back it up.

I paid a fair chunk of money to have the deluxe edition shipped here from Amazon.co.uk.  I’m glad to say it:  These four extra songs are worth it!

There are two acoustic demos:  The campfire-like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Love”, a song as good as any on the album proper.  Then there’s a demo version of the album song “Love Is Not the Answer”, which is better than the album version.  The album version seemed very much the answer to “Holding My Own” from album #1.  The acoustic version loses that soundalike aspect, and exposes bare Justin’s vocal prowess.

Then there’s “Pat Pong Ladies”.  No idea what this one is about since it’s not included in the lyric sheet.  This one has a more layered and operatic vibe, more akin to album #2.  Having said that, it’s a great tune, better than some of the album tracks.  It gets positively Queen at times.

Lastly, “Cannonball (Long Version)”.   As my fellow rock enthusiast, Heavy Metal Overload asked, “Where’s the short version?”  Maybe Ian Anderson knows.  He plays that flute part.  Of course!  But this isn’t a ballad, or even a Tull-like rocker.  No, this is The Darkness sounding like themselves (circa album #2 with some boogie piano underneath and layered screams)!

I’m so glad this band is back.  I hope to catch them live.  I hope Lady Gaga’s audience is into them…now there’s an odd pairing!

4.5/5 stars

 

* word coined by Statham