Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Darkness' 'Last of Our Kind' - Album Review

The Darkness are the quintessential British rock band. When their debut album Permission to Land hit in 2003, it gave rock music the wake up call that it needed. It was Number 1 in the Official UK Album Charts, and also found world-wide success. It always annoyed me that they considered by some of the snotty-nosed end of the rock press (and the rock scene in general) as a parody band. Sure, they have never taken themselves all that seriously and some of their lyrics are silly, but they contain all the hallmarks of what makes a great rock band. 2005's One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back was actually a better album than their debut in my opinion. The songs there are so gloriously over the top, and the production is so lush. It was not as successful however, and 'only' reached Number 11 in the charts. The band split up soon after as it seemed the Hawkins brothers could no longer stand to be in the same room together, and the rock world mourned the passing of the most fun band to come around for quite some time. Eventually however, they kissed and made up, and in 2011 The Darkness' original line-up returned for a slot at Download Festival and an extensive UK tour. New songs were debuted on this tour, and the album Hot Cakes followed a year later. Hot Cakes remains a good album, but contains a bit of a different sound to the previous two. It is less lush, instead focusing on the rawer end of rock. Frontman Justin Hawkins' trademark falsetto vocals are still present though, and it was an enjoyable album when it came out - but the band were not destined to return to the arenas they vacated. The band seem content with a humbler existence however, and are happy to hit the clubs hard on their tours. Original drummer Ed Graham left the band last year and was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies who laid down the tracks for the band's new fourth album Last of Our Kind. However, in a Spinal Tap-like turn of events, she has since been replaced by Rufus Taylor, who was last seen drumming with his Dad on the recent Queen + Adam Lambert tours. Last of Our Kind is quite similar to Hot Cakes soundwise; emphasising the rawer end of the band's sound. There is something extremely addictive about it though, and some of the melodies really stick with you for a long time. Hitting Number 12 in the charts too shows that there are still plenty of Darkness fans out there.

The album's opening track Barbarian starts out with a spoken introduction, before a muscular riff takes over. They were clearly trying the pack the same punch that Black Shuck did way back in 2003, and it almost manages it. The riff is big and powerful, and Justin's vocal melodies are very catchy while not relying on too many of his falsetto. That rears its head during the chorus though, which is an enjoyable one - backed up by some lead guitar that matches his vocals. The song's guitar solo is also very good, and has a different sound to those usually heard on Darkness songs. Despite sounding a lot like The Cult's She Sells Sanctuary, Open Fire is a really great rock song. The song's clean guitar intro has a really cutting sound that just sticks in your head, and the gritty chorus is one of the most memorable ones on the album. The gang vocal aspect of it makes it very memorable, and it sure to go down well live. The album's title track is probably the song on the album that sounds most like classic Darkness. The verses have a chugging feel to them that mixes acoustic and electric guitars together for an organic sound; but the chorus really takes off with some ridiculously high vocals from Justin, and vocal melodies that just demand to be sung. This moment is probably the most memorable on the whole album, and brings back memories of their first two albums. After three great rockers, the album takes a bit of a dip with the less memorable Roaring Waters. The bluesy riff is very good though, and has a slight ZZ Top-meets-Aerosmith boogie vibe to it, that works surprisingly well, but the song's chorus lets it down. After the rock swagger of the verses (there is plenty of good lead guitar breaks too to be heard), the chorus comes off a little limp with some less interesting melodies. There is still plenty to enjoy here, and I very much doubt it will make you want to reach for the skip button, but it definitely fails to live up to the greatness set by the opening three songs. A better chorus would have really made this song great! Wheels of the Machine does not exactly bring the greatness back either! The Darkness have always written the odd twee song, and this is one of them! It is one of those songs that is caught somewhere in the middle of being a ballad and being a rock song, and does not really function that well as either. That being said, the vocal performance from Justin throughout is very impressive. He shows off his large range very well, which gives the song a classic Darkness feel in places.

Mighty Wings gets things back on track. The song has a really great off-kilter riff that almost strides into the metal territory, and is probably the heaviest the band have ever sounded. The verses are really classic Darkness too, with some excellent Thin Lizzy inspired twin-lead guitar sections that pay homage to Dan Hawkins' favourite band. As you might expect from a great Darkness song, it is extremely over the top! Justin's vocals are once again very diverse; and the chorus is a demonstration on what falsetto can do in the world of rock. The Queenisms are brought right to the fore here, and it really packs a punch after the two weaker songs that came before it. Mudslide follows and it is another solid hard rocking number. It definitely has the feel of the band's debut album, with the Hawkins brothers' guitar tones sounding almost identical to that album. I also like the way that little acoustic sections are thrown in here and there to break up the rocking and keep things interesting. The song steams along at a mean pace, and includes plenty of excellent vocals from Justin. Sarah O'Sarah is a quasi-ballad that does what Wheels of the Machine seemingly failed to do. Sung largely in falsetto, Justin manages to inject a fair amount of emotion into his delivery which gives the song the edge it needs. It mixes acoustic passages with grander sections to make something that is enjoyable to listen to, and certainly pays tribute to Queen a fair amount. Some of the lead guitar towards the end even attempts to recreate Brian May's classic tone. Hammer & Tongs has a riff that reminds me a little of Status Quo, with it's bouncy rhythm, but the verses actually have this strange brit-pop twang to them. It works better than it should, and it leads nicely into a simple but effective chorus with some very memorable vocal sections that stick with you from the first listen. It not one of the most remarkable songs The Darkness have ever come up with, but it sure is catchy! The album's final song Conquerors is a little different from usual, and some respects does not really sound like The Darkness. Bassist Frankie Poullain actually sings the majority of the vocals (supported ably by Justin with the harmonies) and he actually possesses a rather powerful voice himself. The song has a rather epic, anthemic feel to it; with plenty of big acoustic guitar chords, and a chorus that is packed full of swing and feel. Poullain's gritty voice fits the feel of the song, as does the excellent dual guitar solo from the Hawkins brothers towards the end. Overall, Last of Our Kind is another very good album from The Darkness. While their newer material does not reach the heights of their original two albums, they still have managed to put out another enjoyable and extremely memorable rock album. This comes highly recommended for any rock fan.

The album was released on 1st June 2015 via Canary Dwarf Limited/Kobalt Label Services. Below is the band's promotional video for Open Fire.

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