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On the boards since the turn of the century and surviving a 5-year hiatus, The Darkness (quite literally) continue to strut their stuff. Justin Hawkins (vocals and lead guitar) leads with exciting Jaggeresque stage antics and a level of energy that most bands get nowhere near. Love them or not, Lowestoft’s finest band don’t shy from the wind-up.
But did their “Countdown” and “Bake-off” appearances suggest they went soft or even worse – mainstream?
Easter is Cancelled, their sixth album, caused controversy with its crucifixion mock-up cover. Hawkins later apologised for any offence – the bystanders carry open knives. Continuing The Darkness’s “look at me” antics for sure, but is “Easter is Cancelled” worth a go?
“Rock and Roll Deserves to Die”, the opening track points to a dystopian future for the genre lyrically epitomised as “all tattoos and no scars” – Rock N Roll in a cul-de-sac of overused tropes and no conviction.
It’s a rebirth of the concept album for the rock genre, once the staple of prog rockers and primarily in disuse. The main question here is, do they achieve their self-declared aim of reinventing the genre? Musically, this is a grower. If you’re looking for the “throat grabbing” rockers of “Last of Our Kind”, those aren’t on display here, but this is still an album full of winning tracks. Dan Hawkins produces and delivers the complete set of power chords and riffs expected. The sound is clean with great separation, unlike the muddy production on its predecessor, 2017’s, “Pinewood Smile”.
Where this album scores is in its versatility – consistent to the aim of reinventing Rock and Roll – it showcases all the variants of the Rock Band’s trade. From the power ballad “In Another Life”, full-on rockers and even a couple of acoustic bonus tracks on the extended version, this album has it. I love a bit of mandolin with my Rock, and there’s plenty here, together with fretboard solos and lots of crunch. The band have been heavily influenced by Freddie and his gang, although here there are noticeably fewer Queen-esque solos than we’ve got used to from Justin Hawkins.
“We are the Guitar Men” is a standout – proclaiming love for the guitar and the future of Rock and Roll, it’s a solid rocker with keys and layered harmonies thrown in too. “Heavy Metal Lover’s” is an excellent pastiche, with some great lyrics (you’re so metal, I’m afraid you’ll rust), reassuring the listener that they’ve not started taking themselves too seriously just yet.
Easter is Cancelled is not their best yet, but it’s still a strong album with several tracks already on my playlist. The Darkness remains one of the most exciting Rock bands on the circuit. Have they saved Rock and Roll? Who knows, but they’ve given it a good go!
The Darkness are on tour in November in the UK playing two sets each night – the full album and then their greatest hits, so loyal fans can still get their “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” fix!