The Darkness. The impassioned love child of Queen and AC/DC; synonymous with the rock ‘n roll lifestyle of old – drink, drugs, irreverence and maximum sex. Not least of all helped by frontman Justin Hawkins’ incredible falsetto, Stones’ swagger and tight-fitting catsuits (revealing just a little too much). At his side; the first mate on his starship headed for glam rock heaven, little brother Dan – with blistering guitar riffs and modest personality, in comparison. Together with bassist Frankie Poullain (himself the onstage son of KISS and Prince) and then-drummer Ed Graham, The Darkness is all things debauchery to many. And in 2003, they unleashed their debut, Permission to Land. With overwhelming success.
It topped the UK Album Chart, reached thirty-six on the American Billboard 200, and spawned five hit singles; the biggest of which became the band’s pearly signature, ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’. It put hard rock and glam metal back on the radio, at a time when it was a dying beast on its last legs. But the public couldn’t resist the harmonies of Queen, charisma of Steven Tyler and sexual power of AC/DC all fused into one magnificent bastard. Quite simply, Permission to Land was nothing short of incredible.
The record opens with ‘Black Shuck’, a roaring tale of the mystical beast said to stalk the countryside of East Anglia. The Darkness, especially these days, hold somewhat of a reputation for the zanier; going on to write songs about baldness and the state of British transport. ‘Black Shuck’, however, is full of all the power and fantasy of early Led Zeppelin. ‘Flames licked ‘round the sacred spire, and the congregations’ last line of defence was engulfed in fire!’ is pure Tolkien, and Hawkins sings such words with an elegant ferocity. It’s one of the band’s heavier endeavours, and it sounds all the better for it. ‘Get Your Hands off My Woman’ is another slice of hard rock, one of the chosen singles of the set, complete with tragic backstory and rampant expletives. It certainly rocks, but remains one of the more forgettable tracks, personally.
‘Growing On Me’ is another testament to the band’s serious side; a heartfelt ode to someone ‘…you will never fully fathom or understand, but you love her so much that after a while it doesn’t matter.’, as explained by Justin. There’s an awesome solo from brother Dan Hawkins, and all in all proves a neat track. Permission to Land thengives us ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, the band’s staple; and it’s not hard to see why. While certainly not the best Darkness track (even on this record), the amps are turned up to eleven and the high-pitched chorus remains an onstage spectacle evermore. Hawkins’ trademark falsetto is phenomenal here, too.
‘Love Is Only A Feeling’ is a much gentler track, mimicking that of Keep the Faith Jovi in some ways, with a tinge of modern rock. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad track at all, and provides another hue to The Darkness’ ironically multicolored jumpsuit. ‘Givin’ Up’ is a personal favourite of mine; with a riff straight out of AC/DC’s back catalogue. The lyrics deal with severe drug abuse (namechecking opium and heroin multiple times) – perhaps a touch close to the bone given Justin Hawkins’ stay in rehab since – but the combination of bottom-of-the-barrel Bon Scott indignity and Mercury-esque vocals take on the form of a playful beast that’s impossible not to chant along to. The song’s core message (Givin’ up, givin’ up, giving a f**k!’) is something we all think about at some point throughout the day.
Permission to Land continues with the throbbing glam in ‘Stuck in a Rut’ (making mention to several places local to Lowestoft, the band’s hometown) and ‘Friday Night’, before chewing up and spitting out ‘Love on the Rock with No Ice’ in surprisingly good condition. Featuring one of the cleverest titles in recent musical history, it also packs a heavy, bluesy riff that begs to be played live in a New Orleans pub. Detailing a doomed relationship, the chorus chugs away with even Hawkins’ high voice unable to downplay the rising power.
The album closes with ‘Holding My Own’, following the same route of many 70s/80s rock sets and ending with a slower one. From the heart, man. The opening guitar is reminiscent of G’nR, but Hawkins’ vocals are pure heaven, carrying us through a beating chorus with the raw emotion of an endangered species finally blinking from existence.
Permission to Land is a really great record and showcases much of the band’s more serious material. Though, glam rock/metal can never really be serious; much less when it’s performed from a band fronted by someone who’s lost his way to a local low-budget LARP event; hair in sweaty tangles and front zip busted from the sheer might of his chest hair. But, nevertheless, I love it. It’s classic hard rock, and it’s done right. It doesn’t care who it offends (itself, most of the time) and it pumps on all cylinders. The Darkness’ debut is worthy of a listen for anyone; combining the likes of Queen and T.Rex with the mainstream, poppy hooks of the modern day.