I love THE DARKNESS. As I’ve said many, many, MANY times you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan than yours truly. My love affair with this band has been going strong since 2003 with no signs of us breaking up anytime soon. I’ve also been lucky enough to catch their insane live show not one, not two, but THREEEEEEE times, and they are a band that simply owns the stage from the first note to the last. So when new album Pinewood Smile (October 6, Cooking Vinyl) arrived not too long ago I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to press PLAY. Justin Hawkins (vocals/guitar), brother Dan Hawkins (guitar), and Frankie Poullain (bass) are joined on the drums by new member Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of QUEEN’S Roger Taylor...WHAAAAAT?!?
Leadoff track and first single “All the Pretty Girls” is classic DARKNESS and a high-octane way to get this fucking party started, that’s for sure. Next up is “Buccaneers of Hispaniola”…uhhhhh, what? Relax, these dudes always have crazy song titles on their records. But that doesn’t change the fact that this tune has an incredible riff and also rocks balls. “Solid Gold” is lyrically one of the best tracks on this record because it tackles the way the music industry chews bands up and spits them out regularly. It’s also catchy as hell, so watch it become a hit ironically if ever released as a single, hey?
One thing THE DARKNESS have always excelled at is the slightly softer song and/or ballad. Well, “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry” is a perfect example of that, and it was instantly a favorite. The same can be said for “Japanese Prisoner of Love” (again…What the FUCK?!? Ahhh, just go with it, you’ll be fine) This song rips it up with a Hellacious guitar riff and fierce tone, and the band just goes to town. I really hope this number is in their live set when they hit Philly in April of 2018. “Lay Down With Me, Barbara” manages to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek while also maintaining an aura of sincerity. We know what’s happening, but you’ve gotta give the male protagonist credit for being so smooth. It also boasts the finest guitar work on the whole disc.
“I Wish I Was In Heaven” has one of those choruses that you can’t help but smile at when you hear it because it’s just got that effect on you, trust me. We come to another track I absolutely love in “Happiness”, a song about one amazing summer vacation that changes a young man’s life. When I first heard it I could feel all those emotions pounding in my chest from when I was a teenager and fell in love with a beautiful girl. There really is no greater elixir in this world. Closing the disc is “Stampede”, which has a fantastic musical arrangement, but when the words kick in you’ll probably laugh your ass off, as I did in a room full of people with my earbuds in.
I don’t know how the guys in THE DARKNESS manage to do it again and again. They have never put out a bad record, and with Pinewood Smile, they deliver another winner. Mind you, the only song I wasn’t thrilled with was “Southern Trains” because it felt like that train was going nowhere. But that’s a minor blemish in my eyes. Look, the prospect of a new album from THE DARKNESS will always get me excited until they give me a reason not to be, so there you have it. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the band like me, or just discovering them for the first time, this is a great, great rock and roll record. And for those of you who haven’t seen them live yet, do yourself a favor and remedy that on this coming tour, yeah?
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Happiness”, “Japanese Prisoner of Love”, “Lay Down With Me, Barbara”, “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry”, “I Wish I Was In Heaven”, “All the Pretty Girls”