The Darkness’ comeback album isn’t quite what the doctor ordered.
Paul Whitelaw 2012
Having reformed last year following a five-year hiatus, Hot Cakes marks The Darkness’ return to album-releasing ways with more of the knowingly ludicrous, overblown pop-metal that saw their debut, Permission to Land, soar to number one in 2003. But if the novelty had already worn off by the time of their second album in 2005, this comeback effort tests the patience beyond breaking point.
Swathed in a kind of sincere irony, The Darkness are both a celebration and affectionate parody of a genre that's always had an underlying sense of humour about itself. And as such, once their initial impact dissipates, they live or die on the strength of their material.
But whereas Permission to Land pivoted on fun, hooky FM anthems such as I Believe in a Thing Called Love, here they rely too heavily on ready-made riffs, generic melodies and lyrical clichés. Despite a small handful of superficially catchy Boston-clones such as Nothing's Gonna Stop Us, they fail to transcend their influences and add any significant character of their own.
Unless, that is, you count singer Justin Hawkins' shrieking falsetto. It's certainly a distinctive instrument, and amusing in small doses, but prolonged exposure to it proves grating and monotonous. On the likes of With a Woman, his voice is simply a horrendous noise, actively painful, like the cast of Rock of Ages being tortured by a dentist.
That they're overbearing is essentially the point of The Darkness, but that's something of a self-inflicted wound. Shackled by their own schlock, they don't make a virtue of their dogged limitations in the way that, say, AC/DC do. Instead they just hammer away at their glutinous template, writing songs that somehow manage to be instantly memorable and immediately forgettable.
The best rock parodies are musically appealing, as well as accurate. But the likes of Spinal Tap and The Rutles' Neil Innes are better songwriters than The Darkness. They may know their sources inside out, but they can't harness them with any inspiration or wit. The best they can do is resort to supposedly hilarious bawdiness; Carry On Speedwagon.
They shouldn't have bothered, frankly.