Thirty years ago last week, Queen released what was arguably their most extravagant album, A Night At The Opera. The critics had a field day, panning the band for having the audacity to mix prog rock with music-hall, opera and vaudeville with such overblown pomposity. The album debuted at number one regardless, and is still regarded as Queen's masterpiece today. But that was Queen through and through: hated by the press, adored by the public. It's testament to the lasting quality of their 1975 opus that you can now get it remastered in 5.1 surround sound, with DVD extras and commentaries galore. In your face, non-believers.
The fact is, Queen always possessed exactly what us muso types sometimes lack – a sense of humour. Frankly, self-ridicule was Freddie's middle name, and those that truly understood this were laughing with him, not at him. So it is with Justin Hawkins. This Londonista puts it to you, dear readers, that One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back will prove to be The Darkness' A Night At The Opera. For some, it will sound nothing short of laughable, but that's precisely the point.
When they emerged in 2003 with their debut, Permission To Land, The Darkness were immediately dismissed as a novelty act; at the last count, the album has sold 3.5 million copies. Two troubled years have passed since then, during which bassist Frankie (moustache, headband) has been acrimoniously sacked and Justin (leotards, perm) has put on a few pounds. All the while, the critics have been sharpening their claws for the backlash, and now the 'difficult' second album is upon us.
At the helm is A Night At The Opera producer, Roy Thomas Baker (RTB to his mates). Under his influence, the album sounds sonically superb. Multi-tracked falsetto vocals and screeching guitars run amok, and Hawkins senior is given free reign to disappear into hitherto unexplored realms of self-ridicule. His lyrics exude a quintessentially British kind of humour throughout that recalls Freddie Mercury's playful cheek (cf. "You're beautiful and busty, but I'm a little rusty" with Queen's Seaside Rendevous and Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy). On English Country Garden, he's just plain rude:
She said 'have you got a match?'
I said 'yes - my cock and farmer Giles' prize winning marrow'.
Hazel Eyes is ridiculously entertaining, with military drums, bag-pipes and a god-awful guitar effect all underpinning an overblown ode to "bonny Scotland". Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time is a string laden sequel to Love Is Only A Feeling, whilst Is It Just Me? is an obvious choice for the next single, complete with post-solo 'hands in the air' breakdown.
Granted, there's nothing ground-breaking here, but that's not what The Darkness are all about. Contrary to popular belief, the band aren't taking themselves seriously - how on earth could they with lyrics about dinner ladies and male pattern baldness? Everything about this band is tongue-in-cheek, regardless of what they might say (that includes the press release, Mark), but the musicianship speaks for itself. Perhaps they should have taken the Salt 'n' Shake approach and packaged the album up with one of those little blue sachets. This is entertaining stuff, nothing more and nothing less.
You can listen to One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back in full at Myspace.com