Memo to The Darkness: Consider vocal downsizing

The Darkness
Permission to Land 

I think I summed up my feelings on the Darkness late one night a month ago, reclining in my spacious king-size bed, at the end of a long conversation about life, love, existential crisis, and what it means to grow up. My last words before entering into the deep abyss of well-deserved sleep came in the form of this non-sequitor, timed perfectly to cap off an evening of intensity: If I can give you one last piece of advice, it's that the Darkness is not a good band.

The kids on the street, so often right about music, art, books, and which piercings are in and which ones are out, might tell you that this English band of retro late-'70s schlock rock is a hot ticket these days, right up there with The Unicorns, The Shins, and countless other "The" bands that currently inhabit the mental recesses of a large portion of America's youth.

But they would be wrong.

Even, the source for learned indie-opinions of all sorts (if you want to know about rock oriented modern music, check it out), gave the group an 8.4/10. But I'm here to tell you, as someone who can actually remember at least the latter days of the hair metal revolution, that operatic falsetto, eyeliner, and leopard-cat-suits do not make an act– they make a looming cultural disaster.

The Darkness' latest, Permission to Land (2003), begins with the rocker "Black Shuck," and though the first few distorted guitar riffs don't really give you much warning as to your listening fate, once singer Justin Hawkins opens his mouth, it's game over.

"In a town in the east" he begins in a high but perfectly valid modern-day indie-rock voice. The next line begins safe too: "the parishioners were visited..." and on the next word "upon," Hawkins brings out his vocal big guns, jumping up a quivering octave, and taking us back to the age where rock dinosaurs like Ratt ruled the earth.

"I believe in a thing called love" has the pop hooks that should easily reel me in, but it's just utterly impossible to get past Hawkins' continual jumping from normal to ├╝ber-falsetto mode at a part of every line. Lyrics wise, The Darkness is all about women, booze, drugs, and an amusing tangent on un-cool extracurricular activities ("Bridge Club," "Archery," etc.)– the former three being the timeless triumvirate of rock song topics.

But pop music vocalists (indie for the most part) have, in the last few years, graduated to bigger and better topics for their sonic poetry. The Darkness look, sound, and read like the surviving member of a useless species thought to be extinct, and no matter how much I skew my perception of the group, they still make me want to evacuate my stomach cavity.

Consider this review a warning about what not to buy– save that hard earned $15 and buy some Motown.

Permission to Land