Wednesday 24 November 2021

The Darkness - Motorheart (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Nov 2021
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It's hard to imagine anyone not liking the Darkness because they're so infectious. They don't have a single sound, unless we can simply label them lively or energetic, so they're not pigeonholeable. And, even if that isn't a real word, it seems like one that they might use themselves, given a sense of humour that pervades everything they do. Most bands wouldn't be able to get away with a song like Welcome tae Glasgae at the beginning of the album, especially when not a single member is actually from Glasgow. I'm not sure the Darkness do either, but they come closer than they ought to.

It's a wacky song, with an overdone opening built out of bagpipes, martial drums and even wilder falsetto vocals from Justin Hawkins than usual. It settles down a little and rocks, but I can't say it's particularly coherent. Then again, I've been to Glasgow. It's a vibrant city but, yeah, I can't really say it's particularly coherent either. My biggest problem is with the lyrics, because they state "the women are gorgeous and the food is OK." I'm not going to diss on any Scottish lassie, but I have an abiding craving for the African restaurant down the stairs next to my hotel when I was there last. They're a heck of a lot better than merely OK! I hope it survived COVID.

From that opening, the band settle down a little. I emphasise a little because they veer around an array of genres while never losing their rock base. It's Love, Jim's verses seem like Britpop rocked up a few levels. There's AC/DC all over the place, most clearly on The Power and the Glory of Love, and there's Queen everywhere too, especially on Sticky Situations. Eastbound dabbles in country rock, even with prominent plugs for what I assume are favourite British pubs for the band. And it's happy to wrap up in new wave and post-punk on Speed of the Nite Time, which reminds of nobody if not Gary Numan.

That's not to forget the glam rock that underpins most of this. The band obviously grew up with a good stack of Slade records and they played them a lot. There's a nod to Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl on Jussy's Girl, just with the Darkness's pixie-like humour: "And if you don't wanna be Jussy's girl, have you got a friend who looks just like you but maybe isn't as fussy and wants to be with Jussy?" Talking of humour, the title track isn't light years away from Tim Minchin's Inflatable You except in how much it rocks. It covers much the same ground lyrically: "I never had much luck with women so I bought myself a droid."

With such variety on offer, different song leap out for special attention on each listen through. It really is the sort of album that changes in your mind, depending on your mood at the time, which I remember well from Queen, for whom drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor still plays when needed in the place on the stage that his dad made famous. Talking of Queen, Sticky Situations keeps growing on me, and I can't resist Nobody Can See Me Cry when it simply barrels along in between verses.

However, my favourite song is consistently the title track, which was released as the album's first single in August. It has a particularly killer opening, starting out simply, adding an ethnic flavour as it builds, before getting jagged and experimental for a moment and finally sliding effortlessly into its groove. I often sat back in my chair thinking about how tight this band are, but that went double for the title track. No wonder the Darkness are so well regarded on stage.

The downsides for me are that it can be awkward to appreciate just how damn good this band are when they're messing around on their sillier songs and that Justin Hawkins's falsetto can seem a little overused. But hey, this is what the Darkness do and they've carved a considerably niche out of the rock 'n' roll genre for themselves. That's impressive all on its own but that they're still fun makes it all the better.

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