CRR archive album review by Eric Sandberg — Tony Lewis (formerly of The Outfield) Out of the Darkness
John Spinks, Guitarist, songwriter and co-vocalist of the Outfield was a perfectionist, insisting on take after take, line by line, bar by bar. Perhaps as a result, the Outfield produced some of the most enduring, affecting and arm waving anthems of the 80's, spearheaded by the piercing high tenor of bassist, singer, Tony Lewis.
One week shy of four years since Spinks' tragic passing from cancer, Tony Lewis will release his debut solo album, Out of the Darkness on Madison Records. Lewis wrote and recorded most of the songs in his home studio in England, playing all of the instruments and using lyrics written by his wife Carol (Madison Records owner, Tanner Hendon played acoustic drums on several of the beefier songs).
As I prepared to listen to the album, I was curious, but did not have high hopes, mainly because, apart from a couple of co-credits, it was John Spinks, not Tony, who was the compositional architect of the Outfield. Boy was I wrong! Right out of the gate, "Into the Light" whomped me with the patented Outfield muted power chords, and that voice, belting out an instant ear-worm melody. Before I could recover from the amazing verse/chorus sequence the song heads into a perfect counter-punch middle eight which serves to give the final chorus even more emotional impact.
Tony follows up with two more songs in a similar vein, instantly catchy, but deceptively clever in their construction. As "Only You" starts its early chorus over another muted power chord sequence, I began to worry that the approach was going to start to wear thin. But the song is so good, with another great bridge and a deft use of chords that would make a young George Harrison blush, my concern was quickly washed away.
It turns out that I needn't have worried at all as Tony was about about to flex his new found songwriting chops into new areas. "The Dance of Love" slows things down a bit, with a haunting melody and vocal line, while "I'll Still Be Here" proves that Tony Lewis can just plain rawk. "Loving You" is perhaps the album's centerpiece. A ballad featuring emotionally powerful vocals albeit wrapped in maybe just a tad too much reverb, but are no less affecting.
The relentless onslaught of world class songwriting continues with back to back Power Pop gems, "Melt the Ice" and "Thank You (For Breaking My Heart)", leading up to "Dreams and Wishes", a song reminiscent of a late 60's Folk tune, a-la Sandy Denny's Fairport Convention.
In a recent interview with Tony, he described the arduous task of recording vocals for the Outfield, involving at times, up to fifty takes. For this album, Tony felt free to sing away, nailing one inspired vocal performance after another. Perhaps all the drills John put him through back in the day served him well when it came time to step out on his own.
Closing out the album are two very strong songs that each could serve as a great album finisher. "Think That You Know Me" begins with a pulsing keyboard intro followed by Tony's now trademark chiming guitar as he might as well be saying, 'Thought that you knew me until you heard this record'. Finally, after eleven tracks of shimmering Pop craft, Tony leaves us, for now, with the gentle and beautiful acoustic ballad, "I Know", which completes his ascendance as an elite songwriter.
Bottom line: this album will instantly appeal with plenty of ear catching melodies and dynamic musical changes, but the handful of songs that you may gloss over during the first few spins will burrow their way into your mind with repeated listening. Every song on this album has popped into my head at one time or another and stayed lodged there until I could listen to the album again.
Track Listing for OUT OF THE DARKNESS:
1. Into the Light
2. Here And Now
3. Only You
4. The Dance of Love
5. All Alone
6. I’ll Still Be Here
7. Loving You
8. Melt The Ice
9. Dreams and Wishes
10. You Think That You Know Me
11. Thank You (For Breaking My Heart)
12. I Know
CRR archive interview by Eric Sandberg — Tony Lewis Formerly of The Outfield
You may not know the name Tony Lewis, but you know his voice. Tony's voice has been soaring out of radios since 1985, starting with the Outfield's "Your Love" and continuing with mega radio and MTV hits like "Say It Isn't So", "All The Love", "Since You've Been Gone" and "Voices Of Babylon."
The Outfield reached the bottom of the 9th with the tragic passing of guitarist/songwriter John Spinks in 2014, from cancer. Tony took some time away from music, but at the urging of his wife, he began working in his home studio, creating backing tracks and composing his own music which, with the help of his wife, lyrically, he developed into an album's worth of top-notch songs.
I spoke with Tony from Hertfordshire, England as he prepared for the release of his first single and lyric video of the song "Into the Light" which was released on May 18th, to be followed by the album's release at the end of June. Tony will also be back out on stage as part of the summer US Retro Futura tour, also featuring Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, The English Beat, Modern English and several more ‘80s stalwarts.
Eric: Congratulations on this new solo album. It's really terrific.
Tony Lewis: Thank You. Any favorites?
Eric: Well the first three tracks, "Into The Light", "Here And Now" and "Only You" evoke a certain band you used to be in, but throughout the album you take things in new directions. "The Dance Of Love" is just beautiful. I also love "Dreams and Wishes" which might have sounded at home on an early Fairport Convention album. Practically every song on Out Of The Darkness is an earworm. The melodies pop into my head and I think, "Where is that from? Oh, that Tony Lewis album!" Obviously "Loving You" is one of the most affecting songs on the album. I like "I'll Still Be here' which comes off as a more menacing version of "Every Breath You Take". How did this album come about?
TL: What happened was that Randy Sadd (Protocol Entertainment), who used to promote The Outfield, knew Tanner Hendon, the owner of Madison Records. Tanner is a drummer. He's drummed with Paul Rodgers and Bad Company.
Getting a record deal with a guy who owns the label, who can drum as well...It's like, "Thank you, God!" Tanner plays drums on five of the tracks and he and Wyatt Oats mixed the record. The rest of the album, which goes in a different direction, Is basically what I did in my home studio. For drums, I played an electronic kit. I love the drums. I love writing drum parts. I treat them as a musical instrument, not just a backing instrument.
Eric: Do you use drums sometimes as the starting off point for writing a song?
TL: Yeah, I do. It's like building a house. If you get a really good rhythm section, you get the bass drum and the bass guitar in sync...once you've nailed that, everything else is a bonus. Then you can start layering the guitars and the vocals on it. I had fun doing it. It wasn't stressful at all. A lot of people feel it's a huge undertaking, making an album on your own, but for me it was almost effortless.
Eric: When I hear an album like this I think, "It can't be that hard!" but I've tried to write songs, and it's hard!
TL: In the studio I'll get an idea and try it out but, if it's not happening in the first five minutes, I'll move on to something else. It's an amalgamation of applying yourself, using your imagination and letting your mind wander. You keep your fingers moving on the fretboard until you come up with something special.
Eric: Anyone who is a fan of the Outfield knows that the late great John Spinks, and my deepest condolences on your loss, was the songwriter for the band. How confident were you would be able to write songs good enough to put out on a album?
TL: It started off as a hobby really. In the first couple of years after John passed, I didn't even pick up a guitar, let alone thinking about recording music. But my wife and I were out at the pub one night and she said, "You're a musician, why aren't you doing anything?" In the studio I started putting all these backing tracks together. I started trying to turn them into songs but I was really struggling. I did the odd song but was very critical of myself. Then my wife had some lyrics. Some of them worked with the backing tracks and with some I started from scratch with an acoustic guitar.
The main thing was to come up with a real hook or a chorus and then you could build a song. If you haven't got a hook or a chorus, they'll become album tracks. I was fairly confident in my ability to produce, arrange and play all the instruments myself. It all just formed into an album after a year or two. I very rarely went back and remixed stuff. In the Outfield we were always doing that. We were always remixing and singing first lines (opening vocal lines of a song) again. John was very picky about first lines where I'm not. If the first line grabs you then sing the rest.
Remember "Missing You" by John Waite? It took him two weeks to nail that first line (sings) "Everytime I think of you..." Two weeks to get that one first line down. I know it's important, and it used to really spook me, but now I don't even think about it. You'd be on a recording loop forever if you keep thinking about that first line. The important thing is just to be confident and just sing it rather than just do it a line at a time. It's made it more enjoyable. I just really enjoyed doing this album.
Eric: I always find it interesting when they remaster an album, and toss on the studio outtakes and demos to make you buy it for the fifth time, that some of the earlier takes some of the lines are sung differently; the timing, the notes, the emphasis on words are different. I think, "Oompha! I'm glad they kept at it until they got it right!"
TL: It's actually gotten a lot easier with today's technology. I'm not talking about using Autotune but in Logic there's a program that allows you to nudge a note up a bit. I'm not being lazy, but if I've got a good performance, but a note is a little bit sharp or flat in there, I can do a little adjustment on it and put it in tune, whereas, in the old days you had to sing it over and over and over again. John was always into getting the performance on time and in tune and it's very difficult to do that, especially when we were singing the parts together and we had to do them again and again. After the fiftieth time I'd just be like, "AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" (laughter). I just want to sing the song! It had a reverse effect on me after a while. The Red LIght Fever we used to call it.
Eric: When you get new record from an artist you like, and it's really good, it makes you also want to go back and listen to the old records. After listening to Out Of the Darkness about twenty times I went back and listened to the old catalog over the weekend. It was then that I realized that your album is actually very different from the Outfield. You're doing your own thing here. I was reminded that John did an awful lot of singing on those records, mostly in harmony with you.
TL: John's voice had a very hard-hitting, upper-mid sound to it that was very different from mine. David Kahne, who produced Voices of Babylon (1989), called me a freak. He said my scale is very different, almost like a woman's scale. I can't even sing Christmas carols because the pitch is too low. I have to sing them in a higher register. My high matched with John's mid-low. Our voices were almost an octave apart so we fit together, a marriage of two voices that sounded great.
Another example is "Closer To Me" from Rockeye (1992). That chorus is his voice and mine. It sounds like twenty voices but it's only eight voices. That's what's missing from my album, that hard-edged John Lennon buzzsaw voice. This album is really just about me; my portrayal of moving into the light and getting noticed as, not just the bassist and singer from the Outfield, but that I can produce, play the guitar, keyboards and drums. This is my work and my time to get out there and play.
Eric: I believe that everyone who truly loves music has one or a few albums they discovered when they were young that virtually imprinted on their DNA and hold a sacred place in their hearts until the end. Do any albums come to your mind in that context?
TL: Strangely, the very first album I ever bought was Machine Head (1972) by Deep Purple but I'm a big Beatles fan. The music that shaped me, growing up as a kid, was the Beatles. I remember hearing "Penny Lane" on the radio when I was nine and this voice was telling me that I'm safe...that everything in the world going to be all right for me. It's almost like a spiritual thing, listening to them. There is something in the music that takes it beyond the music. It speaks to you. They were so, so clever at such an early age. Of course I'm a big fan of Paul McCartney's bass playing.
As far as albums, as a kid I really didn't have enough money to buy albums. I bought singles by T Rex, David Bowie...the 70's were a big influence on me, as well as listening to the radio in the 60s. I'ts a very broad spectrum of music. I couldn't put it down to one album. I know that the very first Van Halen album made a huge impression on me. Eddie Van Halen, I'd never heard anyone play guitar like that. It's like he was from outer space. Toys In The Attic was big. "Sweet Emotion", made a big impression on me as to how to start a record with a bass. Very haunting.
Eric: You are going to be in the Retro Futura Tour in the US this summer. There are a lot of bands out there touring under a 'name' but with nobody that was actually around when the band started. Most people would say that you would be perfectly within your rights to use the name, the Outfield. But, when I listen to this record, it's clear, this is Tony Lewis, which I really respect. Obviously, you're going to be playing some Outfield favorites on this tour, but I think your new material will easily hold up alongside those songs.
TL: Thank you. That's a nice compliment. Hand on heart, if I went to a Sting concert and he didn't play "Message In A Bottle" or "Every Breath You Take", I'd be disappointed. It's the same with the Outfield. I cannot get off stage without singing "Your Love" or "Say It Isn't So" or "All The Love In The World".
They're great songs and I'm lucky to be able to get up on stage and sing them. It's going to be weird without John onstage. It's going to be very, very strange. Even Liam Gallagher said when he was getting ready to go on tour, that he missed his brother. He was thrown into this solo career. It's a shame they don't talk. Without John it's going to be very surreal and bittersweet.
I'm looking forward to playing new material and Outfield songs and just getting out there again. It's been a long time.
CRR archive album review by Eric Sandberg — The Aaron Clift Experiment - If All Goes Wrong
Before I begin my review of this album I want to preface it by saying that I greatly admire anyone who loves music, creates music, dedicates countless hours learning to play their instruments and, most importantly, are willing to put themselves out there to be heard and judged by the unruly mob. There are many big time critics that have taken great pleasure in savaging and ridiculing the works of others (J.D. Considine comes to mind). Sometimes the attacks are warranted, like when an extremely talented and established artist betrays his or her talent for a buck (Rod Stewart anyone?).
As someone who can write a little, and has been given a platform by Jeb Wright, the founder of this esteemed website, I am afforded the opportunity to hear a lot of new music that I wouldn't ordinarily get to hear and share what I think about it with you, the reader. Some of it has been great and fun to share and some has been so awful that I chose not to write anything about it at all. I'm also wrong sometimes, lavishing praise on something not so deserving of it, perhaps because I was star-struck...hey, I'm human.
This brings me to The Aaron Clift Experiment's third release, If All Goes Wrong. I know very little about The Aaron Clift experiment so I am definitely letting the music and album cover do the talking. Starting with the album art; it's a very nice painting and works as an eye-catching visual. The album title also works well with the graphics. So far, so good...but what if all goes wrong after that?
I'm afraid it does for the most part. Granted, there is some excellent musicianship and compositional chops on display here...some lovely melodies... and I believe there is enough raw talent and skill involved to make music down the road that is next-level if they keep at it and are willing to accept honest, constructive criticism.
The band name, The Aaron Clift Experiment, belies the utter lack of originality of the music within. This is PROG music in that it emulates, simulates and imitates the works of other artists who were truly breaking down the boundaries of Rock and Roll...um, fifty years ago.
There are some compelling albeit familiar musical moments thanks to some great playing and a basic understanding of musical dynamics but they are hard to enjoy when they are accompanied by singing that is, at best, overly mannered and bland, and, at worst, straining and off key. The quality of the singing unfortunately highlights lyrics that would sound pretentious and hackneyed coming out of the regal pipes of a 22 year old Greg Lake in 1969.
The Aaron Clift Experiment is trying way too hard to recreate something in a way that has been pulled off successfully, maybe just once when Steven Wilson unleashed The Raven That Refused To Sing and Other Stories a few years ago. That album evoked Early Yes, Genesis and King Crimson without copying them, just as Wilson nodded toward Peter Gabriel's So (1986) and Kate Bush's The Hounds of Love (1985) with his most recent album (To The Bone) without borrowing a note from either.
Admittedly, comparing these earnest and talented young men to a seasoned professional genius like Steven Wilson is unfair but I will stipulate that I have a hard time listening to the first couple of Porcupine Tree albums all the way through.
They have their moments but massive musical growth and the addition of talented personnel is what ultimately made Porcupine Tree, and Wilson, world beaters. If this band can honestly self-reflect and look at what can be done to take them to the next-level (ie: come up with a new name, find a dynamic vocalist and reassess their lyrical approach) I really want to hear what they do next.
CRR Archive album review bt Eric Sandberg — Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy - Live
Editor’s Note: This review covers only the CD portion of this release which also contains a DVD of a different concert featuring special guests.
Since their inception in 1970, it cannot be argued that Emerson, Lake & Palmer spent far more time apart than together. I suppose it could be argued that they often weren't together even when they were together. ELP's flamed burned brightly really only for about four years and five genre-defining albums. After a four year break ELP released Works Vol. 1 serving their harshest critics all the evidence they needed on a platter of bacon.
Although I rather enjoy an occasional spin of Love Beach it's important to remember that it was released in 1978 along with All Mod Cons, Give 'Em Enough Rope, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, Germ-free Adolescents...you get the idea.
The less said about their 90's reunion the better. Black Moon was, to quote Roger Waters , "a fair forgery" but In The Hot Seat was a betrayal. And what is so dramatic about an empty chair tied to a train track with a train bearing down on it? Was it a symbol of all three abdicating their responsibilities to the band's recorded legacy?
But I digress.
For many years the question had been for Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer: How do I make a living off of ELP without actually having to be in ELP? Keith had Marc Bonilla, Greg utilized horrific pre-recorded backing tracks and told lot of stories, while Carl, now the only surviving member, has his ELP Legacy. If you think about it, Carl's current approach to presenting the music of ELP can be traced all the way back to Works Vol. 1 where he chose to record a reinterpretation of "Tank" with an orchestra.
ELP was the perfect vehicle to showcase Carl Palmer's prodigious percussive prestodigitations (sometimes I just can't help myself). His work with Asia is, however, unfairly overlooked for the gravitas he brought to their sound. The ELP experience replicates the trio format of the original band but eschews vocals in favor of instrumental arrangements and, most controversially, utilizes a guitar player in place of the keyboards.
This is a bold move considering...well...um...jeez the original band pretty much revolved around someone dubbed as the Jimi Hendrix of the organ.
For the most part it works. Guitarist Paul Bielatowicz is an amazing player, as is bassist Simon Fitzpatrick. Between the two of them they manage to convey the melodies, the lead breaks and the vocal lines, often switching who carries what load.
Fitzpatrick makes great use of sound patches to alter his bass sound to fit whatever musical theme he is carrying. My main quibble with this performance is that Bielatowicz mostly sticks with the same guitar tone throughout, occasionally using a keyboard emulator where appropriate.
While I admire his ability to play all of Emerson's most finger-twisting runs with speed, precision and accuracy, hearing all of them in the same up the neck trebly tone becomes monotonous and distracting after a while.
Emerson used a panoply of keyboard sounds to great effect with ELP and just marveling at the guitarist's ability to nail all the notes with mostly the same tone isn't quite enough to satisfy.
What this approach to the music of ELP does, however, is highlight the incredible contributions of Carl Palmer. The music is delivered at a demonic pace which emphasizes the incredible skill of the main attraction. Led Zeppelin couldn't work without John Bonham and Emerson, Lake & Palmer surely would have been a top-heavy disaster from the get go without Palmer's musical training to shore things up.
Now that Keith and Greg have both left us, I would really like to see Carl Expand the ELP legacy to include a keyboard player and a powerful vocalist and take the band's true legacy on the road.
CRR archive concert review by Eric Sandberg — Yes - live at the Grove of Anaheim June 17, 2019
Set 1: Close To The Edge /Nine Voices (Longwalker) /Parallels /Mood For A Day /Leaves Of Green /Fly From Here /Sweet Dreams /Heart Of The Sunrise /Set 2: Perpetual Change /Does It Really Happen? /Soon /Awaken
Encore (Featuring Tony Kaye):
Yours Is No Disgrace /Roundabout /Starship Trooper
Jon Davison: lead vocals, acoustic guitar, assorted percussion
Steve Howe: guitar & vocals
Geoff Downes: keyboards & vocals
Billy Sherwood: bass & vocals
Jay Schellen: drums
Alan White: drums
With Spcial Guest Tony Kaye: organ
Let's face it. For all intents and purposes, Yes is done. Yes has been done since 2008, when Jon Anderson nearly died of respiratory failure and was replaced with a Canadian boat upholsterer whose voice cracked more often than a dominatrix' whip.
There are two bands out on the concert circuit this summer celebrating 50 years since Yes formed. Both are calling themselves Yes, but neither of them are Yes. Yes is no longer a thing. Both of these bands are a hodgepodge of former members of Yes, supported by professional sidemen, expertly performing the eternal music of a band that is a thing of the past.
This is a good thing.
On Father's Day, at an intimate dinner theater, twenty minutes from my home, Steve Howe and friends put on a stellar review of songs from Yes' extensive catalog. I had not seen "Yes" since 2010 at a show fronted by the dancing, tunic-wearing boat upholsterer at the Greek Theater, which could not be redeemed even by a surprise appearance by Trevor Rabin during the encore.
But I could not stay away from a 50th anniversary celebration, with a far superior Jon Anderson stand-in and a special appearance by founding keysman Tony Kaye and I'm very glad I went.
The evening began, however, with a reminder of the joys of standing in line with a horde of typical Yes Fans; 50-60ish white men, bellies bulging out from under their Yes t-shirts they paid way too much for on the last tour. Grown men who have seen Yes more times than their own penises over the last twenty years, trying to out-boast each other about how many shows they've attended.
"Yes" opened the show, guns ablazin' with a fiery performance of "Close To The Edge" a reminder that nobody can play guitar like Mr. Steve Howe. Jon Davison, however, makes a pretty good case that at least one person can sing like Jon Anderson. Don't get me wrong, the tonal quality of his voice and his phrasing are no match for the original, but his pitch and power are more than equal to the material. His stunning delivery of the "I Get Up I Get Down" segment of CTTE was a statement that got people on their feet, cheering him.
After several years of touring Davison has matured into a solid frontman capable of working and holding a crowd. Gone are his hippie dungarees, replaced by some sharp rock and roll threads and his scraggly mane has succumbed to some expensive conditioner. His voice has only gotten stronger with his years on the road.
When Steve Howe strapped on his vachalia, I was sure we were about to hear Yes' first hit "Your Move/All Good People". Instead we were treated with "Nine Voices (Longwalker)" the closing track from The Ladder (1999), a song that, to my knowledge, has never been played live before.
As a tribute to the late founding bassist Chris Squire, the band played "Parallels" before Steve donned his classical guitar to play "Mood For A Day" and Jon and Billy joined in singing "Leaves Of Green". The band then put relative newcomer Jay Schellen through his paces, closing the first set with a spot on rendition of "Heart Of The Sunrise", another Squire composition that allowed Billy Sherwood to shine.
During the first interval I found myself in a very long line for the men's room. In a reversal of the natural order, the ladies had no wait. Everyone seemed puzzled by this until I pointed out that the audience for this show was 90% men.
"Oh yeah", one guy said. "That's a lot of testosterone!"
"look around", I corrected. There are a lot of men here, but there isn't a whole lot of testosterone here unless it was brought in a tube."
Set 2 opened with "Perpetual Change" and still no sign of Alan White. "Does It Really Happen" from the first Anderson free Yes album Drama (1980) was followed by Jon Davison's voice soaring over Steve Howe's plaintive pedal steel on "Soon" the beautiful closing section of the epic "The Gates Of Delirium."
Finally, a very frail looking Alan White walked unsteadily out from between the drum and keyboard risers to wave to the fans and then took several minutes to be helped up to the drum stool while Steve Howe vamped. Once behind the kit, Alan looked strong and in command as the band launched into what I think is the quintessential Yes song, the epic, 18 minute "Awaken". White reminded me of Yoda, stooped and hobbled, suddenly whipping out his lightsaber and kicking ass.
As an aside, the band's policy prohibiting photography and video recording mostly made the evening more enjoyable except for the wanker in my row who kept trying to record and was constantly having a flashlight shone on him and being yelled at by an usher, who I am sure is Barney Fife's grandson. This same usher failed to do anything about the woman behind me who loudly complained to her husband in Spanish that she wanted to go home through the entire second set and encore. I would stare at her, she would keep talking, and her husband just looked at the floor.
The moment I had been waiting for all night appeared to be happening as the roadies brought out a Roland keyboard and set it up at the front of the stage and the band returned for a lengthy encore featuring their special guest, founding keysman Tony Kaye.
Kaye. who was too ill to attend Yes' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, appeared to be the picture of health as he bounded onto the stage looking every bit the silver Rock 'n Roll fox. The spry septuagenarian displayed his fifty years of experience as a showman, attacking the keys with his trademark arm swoops and distinctive organ fills.
While "Yours Is No Disgrace" remains a Steve Howe showcase, "Roundabout and Starship Trooper" were given over to Tony's legendary organ prowess, putting a very satisfactory cap on an already enthralling evening.
Even if you are one of those "No Jon, No Yes" party poopers I highly recommend you check out this show. No, it's not Yes, but yes, it's worth your money.
CRR archive album review by Eric Sandberg — The Darkness - Live at Hammersmith
If I were to be allowed to title this review, I'd be tempted to call it "The Darkness and Me". Some people have a personal relationship with Jesus. I have a personal relationship with The Darkness. I mean...I've never actually met them...but they do speak to me. They whisper words in my ear like "Splunge". They teach me about European History; Danish invaders and Spanish pirates.
I discovered The Darkness a couple of months before Permission To Land (2003) was released in the USA, which was about the same time that I found that you could poke around the internet and find songs to download for free. I hunt and pecked up random Mp3 files with titles like "Black Shuck", "Bareback", "Love On the Rocks (With No Ice)" and even a menacing cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"
The Darkness were shrouded in mystery. "Where was that voice coming from? How many octaves is that? Who is playing that ear-popping lead guitar?" Eventually, the mystery was solved as Permission To Land was issued by Atlantic Records in the US, "I Believe In a Thing Called Love" was all over YouTube and I discovered that some of the tracks I had downloaded were actually B-sides from several different singles that I immediately snarfed up on Amazon/UK. From all these sources I assembled a mega album of bombastic, tongue-in-cheek, face-melting Hard Rock. Thankfully, I did stop short at buying a cat suit. For my money, The Darkness were saviors; the greatest thing to happen to Rock since Cheap Trick.
Then disaster struck in the form of four words: 1) Cocaine 2) Roy 3) Thomas 4) Baker. The initial success of the band, the fluid guitar and falsetto vocals led to Queen comparisons and bin fulls of white powder admittedly disappearing up at least two nostrils. Caught up in the Queen hoopla and a snowy winter, The Darkness lost their way as they set about to record their Night At the Opera with RTB at the controls. Afro-headed, ultra-cool bassist Frankie Poullain wanted to stick to the original formula and producer but was overruled and quit the band in frustration. Frankie was replaced by a bald guy, which had a far more dramatic effect on their image than say, Cheap Trick replacing Tom Petersson with a doppelgänger.
The resulting, overly-ambitious fiasco One Way Ticket To Hell (and Back) failed majestically and The Darkness fell apart. Lead singer/guitarist Justin Hawkins formed Hot Leg, which did not thrill, while his brother Dan, drummer Ed Graham and the bald guy formed Stone Gods. Stone Gods' album Silver Spoons and Broken Bones was a masterpiece of Classic Rock for the modern ear but it wasn't enough to soothe the heartache of The Darkness' demise.
By late summer of 2012, as I searched for news of a second Stone Gods album, the impossible happened. The Darkness were back! Justin Hawkins was hawking cell phones on network TV, Frankie Poullain and his hair were back in the band and a new album was imminent. Everybody was clean, fit and ready to rock.
Hot Cakes (2012) was a strong albeit tentative return to form. Sadly it was the last featuring founding drummer Ed Graham who was forced to bow out due to a chronic illness.
The Follow-up Last of Our Kind (2015) was brimming with confidence and muscle, and that, coupled with a sensational live show, helped reestablish the band's reputation.
The Darkness put a cherry on top of their improbable reemergence with the 2017 release of what will go down in history as the perfect Darkness album, Pinewood Smile. The band was now firing on all thrusters, touring the world and elsewhere with new drummer, Rufus "Tiger" Taylor (ironically, the son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor).
The Darkness Live has to be seen and heard to be believed. Yes, Justin Hawkins really can sing like that. Yes Dan and Justin can really play guitar like that. Yes, that really is Frankie Poullain's hair.
So now, at last, for those who live in the upper Himalayas and can't catch an Uber to a Darkness show, there is an official document of the live dynamo that is The Darkness. 19 tracks of flawlessly executed Metal-tinged Power Pop; at times self-effacing and humorous but always deadly serious.
My only two quibbles are, 1) It took so long to get a live album out that there are too many favorite songs from which to choose for the setlist. Missing is the searing former show-opening instrumental, "Bareback", along with my personal favorite monster jam, "Love On The Rocks (With No Ice)", and 2) NO BLURAY CONCERT VIDEO?! C'mon!
We can only hope that the band's trajectory will continue its current apogee and there will be plenty more studio and live albums, as well as a concert film, in the offing. Please guys, take my money!
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.