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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

It's OK to lose this 'Ticket'

When The Darkness' first stateside release, "Permission to Land," hit shelves in winter 2004, audiences were wowed by the pomp and vigor of the contemporary quartet from Norfolk, England. Praise for the band's interpretation and emulation of the classic rock sound flooded from media outlets, as did comparisons to myriad bands of the '70s and '80s.

Most remember them, however, from radio disc jockeys' obsession with blasting "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" at all hours of the day or from lead singer Justin Hawkins's infamous falsetto. But they may be remembered; the band has made a name for itself by inciting wistfulness for rock behemoths of yore. By adapting their musical nuances and dressing in spandex, The Darkness pays homage to the unrestrained energy and gusto of their musical predecessors.

Last week, the band released their sophomore stateside effort, "One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back." In contrast to their previous album (whose songs merely evoked the ghosts of classic artists), in "One Way Ticket" The Darkness wholly impersonate them in sound and instrumentation. Whereas "Permission to Land" combined the originality of The Darkness with that of their influencers to create a uniquely nostalgic sound, their new album sounds as if it were a cover album of classic rock tunes from decades past.

The Darkness scarcely used more than keyboard, drums, bass, guitar, and Hawkins's fluctuating voice to fashion songs on "Permission to Land," but in "One Way Ticket" the band expands their repertoire considerably in terms of the variety of instruments and vocal techniques. Sadly, what would appear to be a positive influence on the band proves pernicious as The Darkness uses these musical means to imitate their predecessors too closely.

The album starts out with a one-minute pan-flute and Gregorian choir intro on the title track. During that same song, one can hear a consistent cowbell and multi-track vocals that can't help but remind listeners of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." The album then shifts to "Knockers," a song appropriately about a woman on which Hawkins screams like Big Star's Alex Chilton in "Don't Lie to Me." The following song, "Is it Just Me?," is transformed into a blatantly Judas Priest-inspired song by dint of Hawkins' vocals and the crisp driving guitar. The same goes for "Bald" later on in the album.

Surprisingly, string and horn sections make it onto the album as well. In "Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time," "Girlfriend," and the clincher "Blind Man," string and horn sections turn potentially emotional and lyrically potent songs into ones that resemble cheesy seventies Meat Loaf ballads. Something similar happens in "English Country Garden," where the grand piano and Hawkins's Freddie Mercury-esque vocals make the song sound as if it were straight off a Queen record.

Probably the most original song on the album is "Dinner Lady Arms." Still, it sounds as if it could be a B-side off "Permission to Land." That is, they sound like The Darkness on their first album, but it is not up to the standards of the other songs from it.

All of the aforementioned new instruments would seem to be a constructive force for the band. Yet the way in which The Darkness uses them becomes regressive as the band begins to resemble its influencers too closely.

Many of these likenesses can be attributed to the decision by The Darkness to employ producer Roy Thomas Baker. Baker was the producer and a great power behind two of Queen's albums (including their seminal hit tune "Bohemian Rhapsody"). By soliciting the ex-producer of a band to which The Darkness is overwhelmingly likened, the band concedes its image as a wannabe classic rock band. This realization not only detracts from the band's credibility as artists but also damages their image as progressive musicians

However, it would be arrogant not to point out the good in this album. The clarity of their new sound is laudable. The songs are indeed upbeat, catchy, and fun. Also, the varied and new sounds that the band takes on in "One Way Ticket" prove an admirable endeavor. They have a clear, cohesive sound and accordingly, one cannot deride the album for being as insignificant as it first seems.

Eventually it appears that The Darkness didn't actually plagiarize the sound of their classic rock idols, they likened their music to them. The group probably should have been more conspicuous of their appreciation, something that's hard to do with Queen's old producer.

Fans liked The Darkness because their oldness was something new. Hopefully, this relatively lackluster release will allow the band to see that their success emanates from their novelty, and not from their association with '70s rock and '80s hair metal.

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