When The Darkness alighted on America’s shores with its 2003 debut Permission To Land, the band’s mix of frontman Justin Hawkins’ keening falsetto, cock-rock guitar solos and in-your-face on-stage theatricality came off as a musical anachronism at a time when then the music industry’s infrastructure and identity were simultaneously under siege by file sharing and fickle music trends.And while the UK quartet found far more success in its British homeland, the album’s unforgettable single “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” managed to crack the Billboard Top 40 charts, peaking at 35. Fast forward 12 years and the band has just released its fourth album, Last of Our Kind and are in the midst of an American tour.
With Hawkins and his younger brother Dan forming the core of The Darkness, the duo has seen turmoil roil the band, which has continued to enjoy great success over in England while trying to reintroduce themselves to American audiences. It didn’t help that during those dozen years, line-up changes have occurred including the 2005 departure of founding member/bassist Frankie Poullain. There was even a brief hiatus for the band when substance abuse issues caused Justin Hawkins to depart while the band soldiered on, changing its name to Stone Gods while the elder Hawkins cleaned up and dabbled with musical projects White Whale and Hot Leg.
When the original quartet reformed in 2011, they subsequently released Hot Cakes in 2012, the band’s third album. With the latest line-up wrinkle being the addition of drummer Rufus “Tiger” Taylor, (“We’ve always had drummer problems” Hawkins admitted), who is also the son of Queen timekeeper Roger Taylor, The Darkness has continued to plunge forward. While the playing field in the music industry has changed considerably, concurrent with the inner turmoil the foursome was simultaneously dealing with, Justin Hawkins is proud of how the band has rebounded since ending its hiatus and rallying back with two albums since then. He’s particularly excited about how the band’s latest effort came out.
“Since my brother produced [Last of Our Kind], it’s concise. Every element of it is a pure Darkness record, much like the first one,” Hawkins explained on the phone from Seattle. “We had no management, no label or anything like that when we created it. In most senses, it’s a completely unsullied document and we’re very proud of it. We worked hard on it for a long period of time and refused to do any live work while we were recording and writing it. It’s a focused, unsullied Darkness record as opposed to the other ones, which I think are less so.”
A lean collection of 10 songs, the latest Darkness effort has what you’d come to expect from a band whose glam and rock influences not only include Queen and Aerosmith, but The Cars, Cramps and ABBA. Harmonies abound whether it’s in the mid-tempo ballad “Sarah O’Sarah” or anthemic closer “Conquerors” that finds Poullain stepping up to the mic. Elsewhere, Hawkins the elder is in full control, soaring throughout the epic synth-kissed epic “Mighty Wings” and the Mott-like strut of “Hammer & Tongs.” And while it would be easy to dismiss the band as some kind of hair-metal retread with a UK bent, Hawkins insists that’s not the case, particularly when it comes to recounting his earliest musical memory.
“I like a bit of new wave and I like a bit of pop rock,” Hawkins explained. “I like a lot of luxurious rock and roll. I’m not much into metal. I just like great songs and guitar playing basically. I can remember listening to my father’s ABBA records and trying to decipher the lyrics in the days before the Internet. And just having a clipboard on my wall with sheets of what I thought were accurately transcribed ABBA lyrics. I was really, really obsessed with lyrics from an early age. The ABBA songs are some of the most interesting stuff because it’s so personal and so dark even if the arrangements are sort of disco sounding.”
But for Hawkins, live shows are where The Darkness tend to excel and having toured extensively in the band’s homeland, they’ve developed a tight bond with UK audiences. It’s a trend he hopes to extend to the band’s American fans.
“When we play a festival in the U.K. for example, fans usually go nuts. The crowd is amazing. They know us and we know them and there’s a mutual fondness,” he said. “When we play in America, I think there’s still a sort of element of the audience not really knowing what to expect because I think most people in America think we’ve only had one song and then disappeared. Whereas, we had a much more sustained attack on the U.K. music scene. I think we’ve had five Top 10 songs, several charting albums and I think we were on the television much more. I think people just know us more. There’s familiarity right before that moment that breeds contempt [that we hope to repeat in the States].”
The Darkness will be appearing on Oct. 31 at The Paramount, 370 New York Ave. in Huntington. For more information, call 631-673-7300 or visit www.theparamountny.com.