To follow up with Sunny Day Real Estate, we may as well look at the Darkness as well. Equal parts snark and sleaze, Queen and Maiden, nerd obsession and jock cockiness, they were something truly special when their Permission to Land came out, but after breaking up and reuniting, their work has seemed a bit lackluster. Last year, however, they put out Last of Our Kind, which felt like a return to form in the clips I’d come across. Let’s take a moment and see how that worked out for them.
The Darkness are interesting as a modern band not only for Hawkins’ power-falsetto, but because they still blaze through a guitar solo as if it is still hip to add such a thing to a song. They still craft killer riffs: you’re not going to get away with covering a Darkness track from a fakebook. On Last of Our Kind, you might not even luck out with a straight forward structure to the riffage: “Roaring Waters” strays from the script of a basic 4/4 many times, especially on the multiple speeds of the solo riff. “Mighty Wings” plays with time in its early riffs as well, and delivers one of the best solos on the album. It’s really about as guitar-driven an album as you’re apt to get nowadays, and if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll want to hear this album. But again, this is also louder than the average Darkness song, whether in the aforementioned tracks or the explosive ending of “Mudslide”… there has always been a shred of metal in the Darkness, but now it’s gleaming brighter.
We see this in the topicality of the songs, as well. “Barbarian” is clearly the soulchild of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and as such it doesn’t fit anywhere easily, especially as it is more of a storyteller song, as opposed to Zep’s, which is all first person. It is definitely a strong reminder that Justin Hawkins can still wail, though. When the rest of the album opens up, however, “Barbarian” fits in much better, again due to the stronger focus on the metal aspects. ”Open Fire” is as great an 80s metal song as has been written since the 80s, and it is clear with these opening overtures that the Darkness’ brand of camp is maybe a bit less about the tongue-in-cheek of previous albums and more about mining genres that are well known for the campy. “Open Fire” is about as “serious” as anything the band has ever put out, but the album also feels like it could be its own sci-fi quest, with titles like “Mighty Wings” and “Conquerors” making up the bulk of the album. The former crushes through the verses with heavy distortion, while the latter is about as puckish as anything here gets, sung by their bassist in what can best be described as power-karaoke: it sounds like the song we all want to shout along to, performed by us shouting along to it.
As much joy as the Darkness bring at all times, though, it is “Sarah O’Sarah” which delivers what I really need here: an over-the-top metal ballad, the sort of which the band is known for. It’s not that “Hammer & Tongs” doesn’t strut in the same way as “Givin’ Up” does, or that “Last of Our Kind” doesn’t have serious emotion behind it, but what I really needed is something brainless and fun. That leaves me of two minds about Last of Our Kind: what we have here is a great solid rock album, and probably one of the best of recent years, but it while the Darkness are showing off their skills, they aren’t really showing off the Darkness. I’m torn on whether or not that means an eventual purchase or not, but it does feel good to know this sort of thing still has a place in modern music.