Does everybody remember The Darkness? They were a group of British lads who embraced the seventies rock sound and look to a fault. They also featured a singer with a range that could get high enough to show Mariah Carey the door. In 2003 they released Permission To Land and, with the big hit single “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, The Darkness was poised to become the “next big thing in rock”. Well, that never happened. Instead they released a second record nobody cared about and frontman Justin Hawkins left the band to hit the rehab circuit.
Fast forward to 2012 and the newly reformed Darkness is back with a new album titled Hot Cakes that picks up right where they left off. Thankfully the band didn’t decide to become heavier or meaner for their comeback. I don’t think I could’ve handled a Darkness black metal album or experimental noise record. Hot Cakes are ten originals and one cover that do what the Darkness do. I was never a fan of these guys but the downright hatred they were targeted with always seemed way off. Nothing here is spectacularly amazing but it’s catchy as hell and completely harmless. Being mad at The Darkness is akin to kicking the Easter Bunny, there’s no point because all they want is to bring the good times.
Perhaps my favorite part of Hot Cakes is it sounds like songs from different scenes in some imaginary eighties film that never got released. This is all high rocktane energy, catchy riffs and melodramatic vocals that make the songs seem more epic than they really are. Hot Cakes opens with the foot tapping riff fest “Every Inch Of You”. It’s a four/four blues tempo sped up just slightly. Within the first two minutes Hawkins sings the lyric “suck my cock” about all the adoring groupies. “Every Inch Of You” sounds like the opening credits for my imaginary eighties film. Various scenes of the stars waking up and getting ready to go to High School. The chorus comes in such hammy glory that I could picture the title of this film exploding on screen.
“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” is the driving groover. The riff gallops as if the teens in our movie were driving around deciding they would try to take on the bullies. The guitars are so sweeping and big that it echoes that party scene in every eighties film. Kids bopping around happy to be alive, making out, doing drugs, all the shit that makes being a kid so much fun. “With A Woman” is the hot girl strut. Think “Girl’s Got Rhythm” by AC/DC but not as dirty. The riff and drums play off each other in a way that I picture the hot new girl strutting through school in her little skirt.
All of Hot Cakes has a brighter vibe than the music it takes cues from. While there is an element of the David Bowie/New York Dolls era glam rock, it lacks the awesome sleaze of the genre. The Darkness clearly borrows from seventies giants like Zeppelin and AC/DC but their songs lack the badass nature of those groups. Ironically there is no “darkness” to The Darkness and that’s the problem.
Lacking the big balls or sleaze of the genre’s they so admire and coupled with their wacky high-kick antics, the band never rises above a joke band. You hear what they do, laugh, and then move on. Hot Cakes is fun to listen to but being so antiseptic and completely derivative, you have no venue by which to take it seriously. There is an argument that says these guys are trying to be funny and trying to take the piss out of the cock-rock ideal. Based on what I’ve seen I think they’re trying to bring back the rocker “strut” that Van Halen or Kiss had. The problem is, they don’t have the tunes. Those bands may have been silly on some level but their songs were face smashers. The Darkness music, while fun to listen to, has no staying power at all. Wacky hijinks and forgettable songs are not a good combination.
There is one moment of absolute triumph on Hot Cakes. Their cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. Powered by a power guitar interpretation of the quiet original guitar line, the Darkness turn the melancholy and downtrodden song into the ultimate Judas Priest arena anthem. With double time played on the hi-hats giving the beat a disco vibe and the guitars galloping like the Calvary coming home, The Darkness turn “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” into an absolute rager.
Overall Hot Cakes, like the band who created it, is neither exciting nor offensive. The songs are catchy and fun but ultimately forgettable. The tragedy here is that somewhere within the high kicks and goofy costumes is a band that could probably write a kick ass rock album. Until that time The Darkness, and Hot Cakes, will be little more than a really funny, really catchy SNL skit.