The arrival of a new album from The Darkness will always bring something unexpected, no matter how much has been heard, seen live or written about it. It creates a little aura of mystery around the package that arrives on the doormat. As this is the first album produced by Dan Hawkins, it’s even more of an enigma. What have they done? How have they done it? Where’s the air guitar? WHAT THE… cor blimey, will you just listen to THIS…
There’s plenty of that last statement to go round. Open Fire (read more), and I can say that it fits in this album perfectly. Last Of Our Kind is a jigsaw – distinct and different pieces of a carefully fitted whole. Layered tracks – blended subtleties vying with bright rippling counterpoints, ridden by the usual virtuoso solos – are often driven by deep, heavy rhythms so solid you could break a chunk off and eat them. Some songs have gone over the wall of sound and are more of a 3D model of it. 70’s influences add to that sublety of contrast, especially where vocals belie the words. There’s no particular order to what follows:
Barbarian has oft been discussed. An East Anglian history lesson, it is crammed full of blood stirring primal war screams and dastardly deeds,probably destined to be a cult fan favourite forevermore. Open Fire is also much cherished already, offering just about everything the diehard craves with an alternative weave providing extra earworm potential.
The two most identifiably Darkness tracks (to the world outside fandom) are the current release – Hammer And Tongs (would it have been even more Darkness to spell it Tongues?) and Mudslide. The first is a joyful bouncy romp about the finer things in life, sexy in TD’s innocent yet earthy way. It’s a belter live, too. ‘Mudslide’, in comparison, is TD’s other forte – crazy, dirty rock to mosh your way round the room too. Or fall off your office chair to whilst headbanging. Ahem. You might almost expect to hear a ‘woof’ at the end.
Last of Our Kind is something that’s had unprecedented fan input, both with vocals and with a video that has yet to be seen. It deals with the inevitability of some kind of defeat but always fighting your defiant hardest – Darkness to a T. A comment on the vagaries of the music industry, perhaps? A choral, uplifting anthem to suit many of life’s situations, anyway. It’s Frankie Poullain’s favourite, if that helps…
Further on, Roaring Waters‘ soft vocals deceptively deliver some pretty brutal lyrics over a hard musical throb. Don’t be lulled – it’s metal, not a wander through some nice sharp riffs. In complete contrast, Wheels Of The Machine is the closest The Darkness have come yet to a straight love song, but with a hint of trademark fearful doubt in it. Brightness pulses through rockily dreamy almost ballad. That brightness shared with Sarah O’Sarah, which spangles at the beginning and continues with that pop singalong good time feel hook. Watch out for those lyrics again, though. Well–honed anxiety bubbles through a dogged determination to carry on in the face of perceived pending disaster. Ending on a plaintive note, it leaves a feeling that defeat has been snatched from the jaws of love victory, despite everything – it’ll get you, if it’s played live acoustically.
Conquerors – the last track – is sung by Frankie. It’s a very welcome surprise
for fans of the coolest pirate bassist on the planet. The persuading and arm twisting done to accomplish this was very much well worth it. Frankie’s soft speaking voice gives no hint of the throaty vocals on this track – a little growl and a sting of contempt thrown in for good measure. It’s as slow and serious as a rock ballad, but heaven help you if you’re ever the cause of these words. Whatever has been conquered may or may not of been worth holding on to, maybe? It’s all in the delivery. Nailed.
Finally, here’s the glory. In one song, The Darkness combined Abba, Queen and pure heavy rock to produce an almost elegiac masterpiece. Flicking from tempo to tempo, between genres so fast they blur, Mighty Wings is stupendously flamboyant yet tightly controlled – not a note of any kind is wasted on the operatic flight through octaves. ‘Soaring’ doesn’t cut it – satellite technology is needed to catch the outer reaches of Justin’s vocals. Whatever his voice has been eating, it works. Effortlesserer than usual, by far.
This is an album with a concept – stories of pillage and plunder instantly to the fore. This ain’t no re-enactment, though. Pain is the main impression, whether ancient or modern, physical or mental, real or feared, communal or deeply intimate. It’s the reactions to it that vary wildly in treatment and timbre. The Darkness go much deeper than ever they have into emotional crises and cris du coeur, with a hefty dose of death and sex to round it out. Mixed with outrageous riffs and balanced with Mudslides, they still manage to uplift and encourage. Neat trick. Listen attentively, because as the band have said, they’re the ‘gift that keeps on giving’. Delve as much as you like, there are little discoveries to be made from all angles and at odd times. Everyone has a relationship with certain songs, so there a whole lot of new couplings to be formed over the next few weeks.
There is a certain amount of frisson gained from being a Darkness fan, as the unexpected (good or otherwise) happens at regular enough intervals to be normal. The tension of waiting for the next one to arrive causes a somewhat masochistic pleasure on occasion. There’s no need to beat yourself up unless you really want to… Last Of Our Kind is a very good Darkness album indeed. Better than both Hot Cakes and One Way Ticket… in terms of depth and breadth, never mind style and delivery. There’s so much to explore and say about it that 1000 words is not enough – you can paint your own picture of what it suggests to you.