Album Title: Permission to Land
Artist: The Darkness
Running Time: 38m 18s
Track listing: 1 Black Shuck; 2 Get Your Hands Off My Woman; 3 Growing on Me; 4 I Believe in a Thing Called Love; 5 Love is Only a Feeling; 6 Givin’ Up; 7 Stuck in a Rut; 8 Friday Night; 9 Love on the Rocks With No Ice; 10 Holding My Own
The year? 1985.
The band? a-ha
The song? ‘Take On Me’
What about it? Who doesn’t like ‘Take On Me’? A keyboard-fused, pop-ditty that has stood the test of time and almost twenty years later remains one of popular music’s best-known tracks. The intriguing vocals of Morten Harket, the energetic, catchy banter of Magne’s Furuholmen’s keyboard – look up “perfect pop tune” in the dictionary and you’ll find ‘Take On Me’.
When ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ hit the radio this autumn, The Darkness were propelled into the stratosphere. Already attracting the most attention at summer festivals, and a top ten hit to their name (‘Growing On Me’), the release of rock music’s answer to ‘Take On Me’ was the final piece of the puzzle. The perfect rock song, if you like.
The Darkness, from Suffolk in the South of England, have been on the scene for about three years. But it’s only this year that has seen their constant touring pay off. Having been unheard of at the turn of the year, they have subsequently supported Def Leppard, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones and Metallica, appeared at several top summer festivals, spent five weeks at #1 in the UK album charts, and recorded three UK hit singles including a #2 smash hit.
So what’s it all about? Well if you took the glam-metal sound of Poison, the on-stage histrionics of Queen, the good-time groove of Status Quo and a sincere sense of humour (Spinal Tap without the irony) – you have The Darkness.
Featuring Justin Hawkins (lead vocals/guitar), Dan Hawkins (guitar), Freddie Poullain (bass) and Ed Graham (drums), The Darkness’ debut record “Permission to Land” has amazingly gone double-platinum in Ireland. Yet a quick peruse of amazon.com’s album reviews reveal some very ruffled feathers. There’s no doubt that The Darkness have split the rock fraternity.
Where to start….
Throbbing with a heavy, electric intro, opening track ‘Black Shuck’ is an hilarious medieval tale about a killer dog. ‘In a town to the east/Parishioners were visited upon/By a curious beast’, goes the legend. This vicious animal takes no prisoners (‘A glance beckoned the immediate loss/Of a cherished one’) and quite frankly doesn’t care (Black Shuck/That dog don’t give a f*ck). ‘Black Shuck’ is a great representation of what The Darkness are all about. The lyrics are sharp and humorously poetic, the music is masterful and catchy, the guitar work frenetic.
Three singles follow. The album’s best cut is probably ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’, a fairly unsubtle assault on someone ‘drunk and surly’ who has stolen Justin’s woman. ‘I’ve got no right to claim to her frame/She’s not my possession/You c*nt’, he bemoans. Quite right too. Now incase you didn’t pick up on Justin’s unusual vocal style in ‘Black Shuck’, you can’t miss it here. It’s fair to say that this is probably the best falsetto since, ironically, Morten Harket (see opening paragraph). If you think a rock falsetto is a great tool to cover up a limited voice, you’d be way off the mark. When Justin hollers ‘Get your hands off my woman, motherf*cker’, he does it with an inexplicable control and panache. You should be laughing at him, but you laugh with him.
More light-hearted is ‘Growing on Me’, a rock-boogie that is seemingly about a reluctant love affair, but turns out to be about something else altogether (‘I can’t get rid of you/I don’t know what to do/I don’t even know who is growing on who’). So what’s he on about then if he’s not talking about his ex-lover? How about: ‘Sleeping in an empty bed/Can’t get you off my head/I won’t have a life until you’re dead’ and ‘I wanna shake you off but you just won’t go/And you’re all over me but I don’t want anyone to know’. Yup, it’s about genital warts.
There’s not many who haven’t heard ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, a big-boned, infectious rock anthem that grabs you by the balls and has you singing with a ludicrous falsetto before you know it. While the opening three songs are quite strong lyrically, ‘I Believe…’ is merely functional: ‘Can’t explain all the feelings that you’re making me feel/My heart’s in overdrive and you’re behind the steering wheel’. If the idea is to parody 80s cock-rock, then they’ve achieved it. But The Darkness insist they are not a parody act so we’ll assume that’s not the case, and that what we have here is a simple rock song that lets the music do the talking. To that end, they’ve created one of the most iconic rock songs in recent memory.
The strong material continues a little longer. Justin’s intro to ‘Love is Only a Feeling’ at gigs is normally: ‘Get your lighters out, it’s time for the power ballad’. It starts inauspiciously enough, before building in the bridge and finally unleashing with a fist-in-the-air cry of ‘Love is only a feeling, anyway’. Sometimes the lyrics are amusing – (‘I felt light-headed at the touch of this stranger’s hand/An assault my defences systematically failed to withstand’ and ‘The state of elation that this unison of hearts achieved’). At other times, it’s just the clever wrapping of the lyrics around the music that helps the song stand out: ”Cos you came at a time/When the pursuit of one true love/In which to fall/Was the be all and end all’.
I alluded to a Status Quo influence in an earlier paragraph and ode to heroin, ‘Givin’ Up’ is where this is most apparent. Before anyone gets upset and all in a tizzy, it’s all done tongue-in-cheek. They’re not really advocating the use of Class A drugs. ‘My mama wants to know/Where I’m spending all my dough’, according to Justin. The answer is clear: ‘I won’t apologise/I’d inject it in my eyes/If there was nowhere else to stick my skag’.
‘Givin’ Up’ is a raucous, layered, stadium rocker that features a couple of terrific guitar solos and downright hilarious vocals and lyrics. ‘My friends have got some good sh*t/All I want is some of it/Gimme, gimme, gimme that smack…But I found myself an easy way out/Sticking that f*cking sh*t into my arms…Givin’ up, givin’ a f*ck’. Yes, there’s lot of swearing. Yes, it’s funny.
I know I’m repeating myself here, but lyrically this album really takes some beating. ‘Friday Night’ is another fine whimsical effort – a reminisce about a girl Justin used to love. ‘Hey you, do you remember me/I used to sit next to you in school/We indulged in all the extra-curricular activities/We weren’t particularly cool’.
With a leaning to a Robert Smith[of The Cure]-style vocal, this mid-tempo romp is great fun. How many songs can not only slip in the phrase ‘extra-curricular activities’, but also lines like ‘Monday cycling/Tuesday gymnastics/Dancing on a Friday night/I got Bridge Club on Wednesday/Archery on Thursday/Dancing on a Friday night’?
Usual concert closing epic, ‘Love on the Rocks With No Ice’ is very much the antonymous brother of ‘Friday Night’. The subject matter is slightly more sober – the act of putting a public face on a struggling relationship – and it’s a heavy, brooding, five-minute plus rocker with some really strong guitar work.
Okay so it’s not a whitewash – there are a couple of weaker moments, although granted this is only due to the immensely high standards that The Darkness have set themselves.
‘Stuck in a Rut’ throws in plenty of local references to the band’s geographical roots in Suffolk (‘The Barnby Bends ain’t gonna get the better of me…The Acle Straights are gonna take me to where I wanna be’). But while lyrically entertaining, the music is mediocre and just doesn’t hook like other tracks – although the mid-track, maniacal laugh of ‘thank you master’ and subsequent guitar break are a bit of a saver.
Final track, ‘Holding My Own’, is a gentle, double-entendre filled lament. Justin sings about how well he is dealing with a relationship breakdown (‘Baby, everything has fallen into place/My life is so exciting now I’ve got my space’) and the reason for this (‘Lately I’m doing what I can do to pleasure me/I’m finding time to focus on my fantasies/I’m satisfied in my own company’). As if that wasn’t enough, the soaring chorus joins the dots for you (‘I’m holding my own/No matter what I put myself through’). A decent track that again has a redeeming feature in the form of a nice solo from Dan.
While those final two tracks are by no means poor songs, it’s disappointing that they were included on the album at the expense of, for example, ‘Physical Sex’ and ‘Makin’ Out’, two rather top notch rock songs that back the ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ single.
But as I say above, this is more a reflection of how good the rest of the album is.
The Darkness are, as you’ve probably guessed, a band that you will either love or hate. Quite frankly I love them and they are, in my opinion, the biggest breath of fresh air to hit the music scene since Robbie Williams (I refer to his cracking first album rather than his tired recent releases). They are terrific songwriters, excellent musicians, have a great sense of humour and are wonderful stage performers. As other reviewers have said, the album is not perfect, but the fact that the point is raised is a reflection of just how brilliant it is.
Will they last? Probably not – but if this is the beginning and end of the Darkness, they will be remembered fondly. By me, anyway.