It's funny how an off-the-wall comment or a seemingly meaningless incident can change a career. Justin and Dan Hawkins were struggling guitarists from Suffolk who'd rolled through a number of bands together and separately, with little measurable success. In '97, Justin was a university student and Dan had moved to London. Various line-ups, including bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham, failed to connect. But it was New Year's Eve 1999-2000/The Millennium that things changed. Justin entered a karaoke competition and delivered a highly theatrical performance of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." After years of looking for a suitable lead singer Dan saw potential in his older brother's performance. With the front man and lead guitarist set, Poullain and Graham were re-recruited and The Darkness came to life. The group released "Permission To Land" in '03.
Following a major tour and tons of press, The Darkness returned to the studio in '05. But not without problems. At one point the group disbanded. Justin underwent therapy (since when do Rock stars want to be healed?). Eventually, Poullain was canned and replaced by the group's guitar tech, Richie Edwards. Under the guidance of producer Roy Thomas Baker, The Darkness unfurled their sophomore effort "One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back" in '05.
When a band member announces he is going into rehab it often strikes fans as coming out of the blue. But for band members and those close-by, the action is probably a necessity. In October, '06, Justin announced he was taking leave from the group to get treatment for his (reportedly $2,000 a week) drug problem.
At this point, there was more news than action. First, it was announced via the band's website that Edwards would become the group's new frontman, with Toby MacFarlaine taking over on bass. Then came word that the updated line-up wouldn't be called The Darkness but Stone Gods.
Meanwhile, Justin Hawkins started his own band, Hot Leg. This outfit actually released an album, "Red Light Fever," but neither the album nor associated singles made an impression.
With everyone thinking The Darkness was gone for good, it was officially announced on 3/15/11 that they would reunite with all of the original members. In early '12 Justin Hawkins reported that nine songs for the group's third album were "done or finished, all sounding shiny and good."
Featuring the single, "Every Inch Of You," the album "Hot Cakes" dropped later that year.
2003 Permission To Land
2005 One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back
2012 Hot Cakes
The Darkness should be the name of a Goth-Metal act not a group reviving the Mott The Hoople ethos. "Permission To Land" struts from Glam Rock humor ("Love On The Rocks With No Ice") to macho rumblings ("Get Your Hands Off My Woman"). There are arena ready songs ("I Believe In A Thing Call Love") and high-octane Rockers ("Black Shuck" and "Growing On Me"). Lyrically, they keep it simple ("I can't get rid of you, don't know what to do" on "Growing On Me" or "Hey do you remember me, I used to sit next to you in school" from "Friday Night"). Justin delivers these lines with a flourish. But it's Dan's muscle pop guitar, with cascading riffs, that propel the songs.
"One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back" is hardly a hellish experience. Continuing their established and hugely successful sound, The Darkness play accessible, sing-a-long, fun loving Rock with little trauma or destruction. There's an occasional heartbreak but it is often easily mended. The set opens with the lean, mean title track and is followed by the humorous locker room derived "Knockers." On "Dinner Lady Arms" and "Hazel Eyes," Justin uncorks his falsetto which can either be annoying or potent depending on the point of view. The latter comes off like a Queen tribute. The clever "Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time," "Bald" and the synth powered "Girlfriend" put the album over. It's a tribute to the group's dexterity that they can sing the title of frantic Rocker "English Country Garden" and make it sound OK. The album closes with the overly dramatic ballad "Blind Man."
Having sorted out mishaps and misadventures, The Darkness seems relatively unscathed on "Hot Cakes." In their best moments, they still sound like Slade fronted by a Freddie Mercury (Queen) impersonator. Slashing guitars and Velveeta (beyond cheesy) riffs with Justin working his falsetto is a 'can't lose' proposition.
"Forbidden Love" is a campy song from a group already sliding in that direction while "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" shows they still have the chops to Rock out. One track is titled "Everybody Have A Good Time." With "Hot Cakes," that's a sure thing.