The Darkness, ‘Pinewood Smile': Album Review
After the Darkness knocked down the door of complacent rock and roll with their 2003 debut Permission To Land, there was almost nowhere to go but down. Internal conflicts and drug problems eventually split the band in 2006.
The Darkness regrouped in 2012, after putting aside substances and squabbles, and they've been trying to re-state their case for rock and roll supremacy ever since. Hot Cakes and Last of Our Kind, released in 2012 and 2015 respectively, showed the Darkness still had plenty of magic up their sleeves. There is something about their new album Pinewood Smile, however, that shines even brighter.
From the thunderous opening track "All The Pretty Girls," it is clear the Darkness refuse to roll over and play dead. As the album's first single, it is one of the finest songs they have ever laid claim to. From the insanely catchy chorus (something they have always excelled at) to the amusing, off-kilter lyrics (another constant feather in their gold-lame cap) it is hard to turn your ears away. From that moment on, the album never lets up. "Buccaneers of Hispanola" is a straight-up hard rocker with singer Justin Hawkins' trademark falsetto in full bloom. "Japanese Prisoner of Love," which opens with a heavy metallic riff, soon becomes the perfect marriage of Thin Lizzy and the Bay City Rollers.
Heads up for those easily offended, there is a lot of swearing on Pinewood Smile. "Solid Gold," has more hooks than a masochistic fish, but is also loaded to the gills with four-letter words – including the sing-a-long chorus of "we're never gonna stop s---ting out solid gold." Such colorful language just might hinder radio airplay. Shame, as it is a dynamic song melodically with a sharp, sarcastic lyrical take on the music business. "Southern Trains" also lets the expletives fly atop a manic heavy riff. Elsewhere, "Happiness" is the kind of sunshine-drenched power pop that Teenage Fanclub would be proud to call their own.
A couple of curve balls are thrown via the pseudo-"white soul" stylings of "Why Don't the Beautiful Cry" and the country-tinged "Stampede of Love," which ultimately goes into full-on power ballad mode before ending with a moment of unexpected thrash. Throughout Pinewood Smile, one gets the idea that the Darkness are having fun, basking in the concept of doing whatever they want. There have always been those who think this band is some sort of Steel Panther-type parody, but there is a grand canyon of difference between a sense of humor and a bad Spinal Tap routine. That being said, there are times where the clowning around starts to get the best of them, as the Darkness' sharp humor is swapped for mere adolescent prankster-isms.
Musically, they continue to grow. Dan Hawkins' guitar work shines, while the rhythm section of bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Rufus Taylor (son of Queen’s Roger Taylor) is rock solid from start to end. The star of the show, however, remains Hawkins. He delivers in full, with one of the most identifiable voices in rock and roll. In addition, he still has a knack for writing ear-worm melodies and playing some kick ass lead guitar.
The simple Queen-meets-AC/DC tag that is often pasted on the Darkness still applies, but they are so much more than that. Despite a few flaws, Pinewood Smile is a really strong album, perhaps the best they have offered up in their second act.
Darkness Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness