Album Review: The Darkness – “Pinewood Smile”
Going on history, we’re probably due a good album from The Darkness. Since reforming in 2011, their quality curve has almost exactly mirrored their run first time out, with their first post-reformation album (Hot Cakes) being a surprisingly good re-affirmation of the things that drew the fans in in the first place and the second (Last Of Our Kind) unfortunately being something of a disappointment – an ill-advised attempt to try and make their sound heavier by sounding like Manowar, which was depressingly devoid of the fun which was this band’s main selling point in the first place (though I know others on the Pure Rawk staff would argue with me on this point).
Anyway, first time out The Darkness didn’t even reach album number three, so I guess we’re heading into uncharted territory of sorts here. With a settled line-up now in place after the band went through a few drummers around the time of Last Of Our Kind (Rufus Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger, now being safely established behind the cans), Pinewood Smile is the sound of a much more settled and relaxed band, and it shows. There’s no attempts to prove that the band are something they’re not, they’re simply playing to their strengths and doing what they do best. The enjoyable chugging riff of opener All The Pretty Girls and the lightning speed riff of Buccaneers of Hispaniola start this one off in good style, before the enjoyably foul-mouthed tirades of Solid Gold and Southern Trains see Justin Hawkins gleefully dropping the F-bomb Rik Mayall style over some good shoutalong glammed-up choruses. Blimey, it’s almost like that ill-advised Dungeons & Dragons fixation never happened.
Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry is an attempt to recreate the big power ballad feel of Love Is Only A Feeling (which you can’t blame really, given that it’s still the Darkness’ best tune), but while it’s not a bad tune with a wry lyrical twist, it doesn’t quite scale those heights. Japanese Prisoner Of Love kicks in with a galloping Maiden style riff from Dan Hawkins but thankfully, unlike a lot of the stuff on Last Of Our Kind, they remember to pack in a decent tune this time out, with some nice Thin Lizzy style twin guitar work in there as well.
Lay Down With Me Barbara (despite a terrible song title) is a bit of a curveball but in a good way, with some Cure-style chiming guitars adding a bit of subtlety before the chorus kicks in. Similarly the jangly guitars of I Wish I Was In Heaven conjure up an almost new wave style sound – again, definitely something you wouldn’t expect from this band. It’s only the slightly excessive screeching from Justin that kind of takes the edge off this one a little bit.
They round things off with the big hands-in-the-air chorus of Happiness (a summer anthem in waiting if only they’d put it out three months ago) and Stampede Of Love – imagine Whole Lotta Rosie reimagined as an acoustic-led campfire singalong, and I promise you that’s a lot better than it sounds. At which point you’ll find yourself saying “Blimey, that was a bit of a return to form, wasn’t it?”
Honestly, I think this might be the best and most consistent Darkness album to date. After a bit of a mis-step with Last Of Our Kind, this sees the band back to doing what they do best with some of their strongest material since the Permission To Land days, and even throwing a few new tricks unexpectedly. The Struts may well have their eyes firmly fixed on The Darkness' pomp-rock throne these days, but on this evidence the old guard very much ain't going down without a fight...