When The Darkness first arrived in 2003, the timing was perfect. Whilst the popular music of the early noughties was dominated by Nu-Metal, The Darkness offered an alternative to audiences powered by their acquired sense of humour and guitar riffs that had seemingly belonged in an earlier decade. After releasing their wonderful debut album, Permission to Land (2003), The Darkness’ status as a musical powerhouse was cemented and became seemingly untouchable. However, the following two years was a difficult period that saw the much-publicised departure of bassist Frankie Poullain and the release of a “difficult” second album (2005’s One Way Ticket to Hell … And Back!) that was considered underwhelming, specifically on a commercial level. All the elements took their toll on the band, and The Darkness split.
So, here we are – seven years down the line; it’s 2012, and the band has exorcised any-and-all demons that were responsible for the bands split in 2006. On Monday 20th August, The Darkness return with their long-awaited third studio album, Hot Cakes, but there are two questions that surely makes their way to the fore-front of our brains; is seven years away from creativity too long, and is there still a place for this band?
If your answered “I hope not” and “I hope so” to those questions, then you will be relieved to know that The Darkness’ new album is a concentrated rock powerhouse of an L.P, with arguable a more consistently relentless list of tracks than any of the previous albums.
After a seven year hiatus, Justin Hawkins clearly felt the need to remind the world of his band, as the album opens with Every Inch of You – a song that reintroduces the band to the world again with a facetious, autobiographical track glued by a rhythm that edges closer towards Swing more than anything, before divulging in some small-town reminiscing with Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us.
Justin Hawkins described Hot Cakes as an album that is more in line with their debut Permission To Land in terms of its ‘raw’ sound, with luxurious moments akin to the second album; this is no more apparent than in the song With A Woman – a fast, bare-boned rock beauty that is married with a flamboyantly layered chorus that sounds like it came straight from a Queen record. The Darkness quickly make sure that you don’t get too familiar with any one sound, as Keep Me Hangin’ On is a funky 3 minute rout, before settling us down again with power-ballad Livin’ Each Day Blind. Hot Cakes does have warm-hearted moments of genuine sincerity, as Justin attempts to console his heart-broken drummer in a very blunt manner (She Just a Girl, Eddie), and yearning after a forbidden object of his desire (in a very ABBA sounding Forbidden Love).
As the album reaches towards the finish line it doesn’t let-up in its speed and intensity. Concrete, though sung entirely in Justin’s trademark falsetto, is heavy. Really heavy. Although the album as a whole is very strong, it is as Hot Cakes reaches its end where it becomes particularly knock-out (even if The Darkness’ cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) may be somewhat out of place with its place in a surprisingly intimate album).
As the album closes with Love Is Not The Answer – a song which Justin brilliantly tries to give us all love advice by admitting he has no idea what love is, except that it is ‘not for the feint hearted’ – It got me thinking about the overall quality of this album. There is not an obvious ready-made single on this album (ala Growing on Me or I Believe in a Thing Called Love) but the song writing is consistently very good (as can be expected by a front man who has won the Ivor Novello award for song writing). Apart from maybe the self-proclaimed ‘dumb, feel-good rock song’ that is Everybody Have a Good Time, there really isn’t any wobbles throughout this impressive album.
With Hot Cakes, the bar is set high, and it stays there. Hot Cakes is The Darkness’ finest hour (well, 42 minutes). To an extent, you know what you’ll get with a The Darkness album, but it’s not merely ‘more of the same’, this album doesn’t stay within its comfort zone at all times, and it doesn’t always play it safe. This band strongly splits opinion and, despite its bravery, I don’t see Hot Cakes doing anything that will change this fact. However, for fans of The Darkness who have waited patiently for Justin, Dan, Ed and Frankie to iron out all of the creases, you all have been rewarded with – yikes, do I say it? – the best The Darkness album yet.
Hot Cakes is released Monday 20th August