It’s been fourteen years since English quartet The Darkness firmly established their modus operandi with their début album, Permission to Land, and its breakthrough single, I Believe in a Thing Called Love. It was a histrionic homage to the glam rock of the ‘70s and ‘80s, powered by the dual guitars of brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins, and the former’s soaring falsetto, all imparted with enough grit and tongue-in-cheek self-awareness to prevent it falling into self-parody. After a mid-career hiatus and a handful of minor line-up changes, The Darkness return with their fifth record, Pinewood Smile.
Once again, The Darkness offers up a lean album which, clocking in at thirty-six minutes, isn’t burdened by the extraneous. Each of Pinewood Smile’s ten tracks is an example of taut songwriting, production, and performance. Lead single and opening number, All the Pretty Girls, largely serves to assure the audience that Justin Hawkins’ falsetto is still fighting fit and that the group can still pull off their serious/not-serious shtick, while Southern Trains manages to slyly subvert its punkish rawness by having a middle-aged man sing the lines “them southern trains/choo-choo/boo hoo”.
Japanese Prisoner of Love features a riff that could easily form the backbone of an earnest metal track and Buccaneers of Hispaniola stands out with its excellent pacing and rhythm, as well as its bounding chorus riff. The pop-rock vibe of I Wish I Was in Heaven blends well with hair-metal embellishments, though it may be a little too radio-friendly for some. Pinewood Smile ends strongly with Stampede of Love which spends its first half blending country inspired acoustic guitar with fat jokes before bursting forth with a gloriously large and heavy dose of rawk to push it to the finish line. None of it is unexpected from The Darkness, but it’s enjoyable all the same.