It's been a long time since a record has divided Londonist as much as One Way Ticket To Hell And Back, the latest from The Darkness. Perhaps it's because we're made up of so many spods and rockers that as soon as it appeared on My Space everyone wanted a say. What is it, Sunday already?
So here we are at the kick off. Who wins? You decide.
‘One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back’ is a big f**k-off rock album about faith lost and restored, and about love lost and found. The Darkness really didn’t have any choice but to make a record this good. The stakes were too high and the sheer, superhuman feat of pulling it back from the edge (an effort that would most likely kill any lesser band stone-dead) has done nothing but steel their resolve and drive them to make what had to be - and is - the finest rock album of the past twenty years…their debut aside, of course.
So states the press release. Now we know music taste is subjective, but surely even the most avid Darkness fan should be reaching for the Trades Descriptions act right now. What it does do, conveniently, is highlight the inherent contradiction at the heart of The Darkness. They talk the talk, but really need to crawl before they can start running. Their brand of stadium sized, overblown pomp rock hasn't maintained critical or particularly commercial viability since the mid eighties. It rests upon a bedrock of cartoon machismo, swagger and a dream that the geek shall inherit the earth. For the wider world it's a genre that's very difficult to take seriously. The greatest band to carry it off, Queen, always did so under Freddie Mercury's knowing wink and a smile, subverting the rules they helped create with great gusto and most importantly a huge sense of fun. To take this style of music too seriously is to open yourself up to ridicule and The Darkness are, in print at least, taking this game so very seriously indeed.
With all street cred blown, it's down to this 10 track record that could fit on one side of a C90 to do some serious talking. With legendary Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker at the controls there are certain expectations that are. Well all met actually. There's the expansive pop operatic sound, the layers of virtuoso fiddling, glass etching pitch and of course lots of guitars, some of which even sound like bag-pipes. Even David Blaine couldn't take that for long. There are songs that are really about drugs (do rock star really do drugs??? Golly gosh, missus, I would never have thunk it). There are songs about women, almost all the rest of them, songs about school boy fantasies, Dinner Lady Arms, and some truly cringe worthy lyrics:You're beautiful and busty and I'm a little rusty...along the way. And there are the tunes. Let's just say that if you're familiar with AC/DC, Def Leppard, Queen especially (we can hear the copyright lawyers rustling in the background), you'll not be struggling for points of reference. We're even sure we heard Is It Just Me? on Entertainment USA once. It's not that the songs are terrible (although they're far from great although One Way Ticket is indeed a guilty pleasure), it's just that this is to studied, so perfect in its reconstructions, so dated in it's outlook, and so dry in it's execution. With no progression then why bother with it, get the 30th anniversary copy of A Night At The Opera instead. Or Bon Jovi's New Jersey. Or Def Leppard's Pyromania. Or Poison's Greatest Hits.
And there's still the matter of whether we can find some kind of validity for it. Is this a form that really needs reviving or should the embers be left glowing in Gene Simmons' studio? Don't get us wrong, we love big dumb-arse rock'n'roll, but if The Darkness can't find anything new to say or do, the ghost of the tassled jacket should be laid to rest once the Queen Paul Rodgers nostalgia tour has wound up.