Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Darkness: Justin's cry for help?

don't you get it? it's a demon train, why aren't you fucking laughing??

So, Justin Hawkins quit The Darkness, apparently due to a struggle with coke addiction, which is really fucking weird, considering the title track off their last record and its video either poked fun at or praised coke addiction (and AC/DC album title ellipses). Fuck, the record starts with someone snorting up. So am I to now believe that that wasn't a joke on '70s junk-rockers? What is going on? And don't give me that "researching your roles" shit, The Darkness. I want answers. And I'm probably going to have to take Darkness albums seriously to get them.

This is fine with me of course, because Permission To Land was one of 2003's best records. Not only was mock-metal a great joke that deserved to be dusted off (This Is Spinal Tap didn't have any punchlines involving the word "cunt," did it now?), Land was a Queen/Crue record delivered with the skill and accuracy of the metal boys with the hooks amped up and without any of the trappings of "real" hair metal records, meaning no shit ballads or epic shows of boner-headed grandeur, and certainly no funny lyrics that weren't that way on purpose. This was "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" done with smarmy British wit for 40 minutes, only when's the last time you hummed a Spinal Tap song? Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer's songs were more than serviceable for the film, but the Spinal Tap soundtrack didn't have the pop quotient to make those songs hits in 1983, even if 1983 wasn't ground zero for chart irony.

One of Permission To Land's great jokes is its astonishing casualism, that Hawkins could dole out phrases like "extracurricular activites" or "you soiled my obsession, you cunt" and get away with it in his squealing Rob Halford shriek. Musically, it's flawless. Ten songs leading with an expert Angus Young riff ("Black Shuck"), four perfect single-ready pop songs in a row (the perfect ballad "Love Is Only A Feeling" disappointingly never made it to radio in the States) and they crank up the rawk ("Love On The Rocks With No Ice") and glam (the gorgeous "Friday Night" with its twin-guitar outbursts) before settling down with a romantic ode to masturbation ("Holding My Own"). It was the perfect joke record, one you could play long after the jokes (the genital warts in "Growing On Me," Justin's voice) got old. And like any good sport, The Darkness did all the right things, insisting in interviews that the catsuits and Thin Lizzy tees weren't ironic, making videos where pterodactyls make love to spaceships.

Then things lost steam. One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back was as funny as its title. The jokes were either lost on American audiences entirely ("English Country Garden," "Hazel Eyes") or just not funny (the singer of a hair metal band worrying about going bald, fat chicks with jiggly arms, calling a song "Knockers"). The only tune with radio potential sounded exactly like their only American smash and was about coke ruining your septum and giving you the runs. And while the music was still mostly solid thrash-pop, even on the flat jokes I've mentioned, particularly the soaring "Dinner Lady Arms," it wasn't as fresh or inviting as Permission To Land. Yeah, yeah, novelty acts don't strike lightning twice. But still, this new crop of them (Electric Six, Jesus H. Christ And The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Wolfmother) definitely have more substance and songcraft to their wit than say, Sparks or Gwar. There was reason to hope. And who knows, maybe this in-rehab-with-Pete-Doherty stunt is a hoax for The Darkness' ridiculous career of Behind The Music-satire ahead of them. But it's probably not. Recontextualizing the first album's "Givin' Up," a hilariously mean song to heroin addicts, it comes off more like Hawkins' pitiful indictment to himself than any kind of humorous. Maybe beneath those catsuits the guy really hates himself. "One Way Ticket" makes no sense now though; what would motivate a cokehead to do a song "satirizing" coke addiction for his joke band? Especially one as honest as it turned out to be: "Tickets" includes the line "but my septum is in tatters and I've still got the runs." The reports of Hawkins' rehab stay show him grateful to have any septum left at all.

It's still not clear why he's leaving the band, though. Wouldn't going sober sharpen his humor? It certainly never ruined his voice, and his kinda-funny solo prog-ject British Whale ( is easier to take knowing it's on the side of something. The Darkness is planning to forge on without him, which is a metal joke in itself. . . if Hawkins is their Ozzy, could they possibly find someone funny enough to be their Dio? I just assumed as the hilarious singer and lyricist that Hawkins was the genius of the group, so I have a feeling my Darkness attachment ends here, unless his addiction is indeed a joke and those faceless guys behind the headbands and axes really are plotting some kind of career-long fake drama. But judging from the quality of their latter jokes, and their inability to retain their hold on even MTV's priority list, I think we're about to see some seriously long fading career burnout. Tragic, really.


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