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.