A sure, steady thumping bass welcome to Pinewood Smile is a goosebumpingly familiar and comforting preface to the expected and equally comforting explosion of vocals and guitar. Welcome in, indeed. The curtains snap open on the fifth album from The Darkness, leaving little doubt about the players on this musical stage. A little siren wail demands complete attention to the smallest detail of the show.
Curtains open, a plethora of scenes unfold. Emotions run from the joyous to perplexed, from sensuous to apoplectic, self-doubt to confidence and several in between – often in the one song. One should never ever take a Darkness song at face value. The music willfully belies the lyrics at times, and the lyrics bite as well as lift and soothe. A ballad as sweetly rendered as ‘Why Don’t The Beautiful Cry?’ lulls, but beauty and ugliness are not always straightforward. ‘Japanese Prisoner of Love’ is a rollocking rock romp, ending in choral and chord bliss, but who else would include Klaus in singalong opera? Bared souls meet bared arseholes (of all types) in this anthology of poetry.
Plots the long-term and acquainted alike will grasp securely are revealed by ‘All The Pretty Girls’, ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Southern Trains’. ‘Solid Gold’ holds that glorious ‘fuck you’ attitude long held by the band towards a good many things, and here again for the Industry. The word ‘repertoire’ has probably not before sounded so much like ‘repeat twat’. The song has become a fan favourite already because it’s damn catchy, damn sweary, and because fans of The Darkness were at the ‘fuck you’ stage before their collision with the band. Or, they’ve achieved it on the journey. Speaking of journeys, ‘Southern Trains’ gives a much deserved smack to the gonads of a hated British ‘travel’ stalwart. ‘Up Yours’ style in the unlikely protest medium of impeccable heavy rock works rather well. I don’t know if The Darkness thought it would attract so much press, but the tabloids and broadsheets alike have paid it due attention at an opportune moment. ‘All The Pretty Girls’ is a fine mix of bewilderment at the choice of companionship available and sharp acknowledgement of the reasons.
‘Lay Down With Me, Barbara’ – a beautifully sensual, finely observed bundle of easy listening and tenderness coupled with the actual world – as always, Darkness lyrics anchor their higher ideals to normality in oddly endearing and relatable ways. ‘Happiness’ stomps rockness through and over 60’s harmony pop with the effect of both on your feet, endorphins and voice. ‘I Wish I Was In Heaven’ is born to make a jumping gig crowd the Heaven of choice – With You, naturally. ‘Stampede of Love’’s country blues touches butter up for a stonking firework display of sound. ‘Buccaneers of Hispaniola’ adds a touch of piracy to the proceedings with cheerful headbanging swashbuckling. That would be a catsuit and a half…
The music, either blasting or rippling as the vignettes unravel, is an unveiling. The Darkness have always been very very good at what they do. This is, though, a step forward in many respects. The production of harmonies and instrument layering are intense and almost orchestral in their own right. Justin’s voice has strengthened in the mid ranges without losing the impact of his gorgeously decadent forays into the upper reaches of the rock register. On the first album since his joining, Rufus stamps his presence and influence with assured drumming, on equal terms with the exceptional riffs and solos ripped from Dan and Justin’s guitars, and the deep booming pleasure paths wrought from Frankie’s bass.
The familiar and signature sound is here, both instrument and vocal, with a sureness that was certainly not absent before but now more explicit. Confidence heralded the weaving of other styles and tempos to create something wholly but sometimes differently Darkness. Full appreciation of the myriad deft touches will not come instantly, regardless of whether it’s love at first track listen or not. Those softer, slower interludes are a beauty in their own right, creating tales of their own in the midst of full on Darkness.
The telling of dramas is a masters’ craft of varied interpretation and performance where words alone will never suffice. What have The Darkness ever done but create vivid multimedia, multisensual miniatures of humanity?
Apart, of course, from rocking the bollocks off everyone and thing they come across.
Pinewood Smile is available from www.thedarknesslive.com. Ireland, Europe, UK and US tour dates announced.