True awfulness, a state as difficult to achieve with a straight face as greatness without arrogance, is truly something to behold. Behold the Darkness. Granted, there are some who actually enjoy the octave-leaping screech of operatic castrato-metal singer-guitarist Justin Hawkins, whose artistic intentions are evidently balanced perfectly between self-conscious absurdity and rock star snot. In other words, he’s kidding and he’s not kidding, and perceptions of the band are dependent on one’s feelings about that. Why this post-dated glam extravaganza has commercial legs is another mystery entirely.
Part of the same backwash of stylistic revivalism that has given us Andrew W.K., the Music and Jet, the English quartet’s debut album marries a competent bar band doing a passable pastiche of chunky ’70s rhythm guitar rock (think Queen mainly, but also AC/DC, Who, Foreigner, Loverboy et al.) to the most ludicrous vocals this side of W. Axl Rose. Like a mouse on an electrified floor being shocked at regular intervals, Hawkins repeatedly interrupts the ordinary business of generic rock singing to unleash a vibrating falsetto squeal, a self-contained call-and-response amen chorus, that sounds as painful to generate as it is to hear. The paradoxically girly singing that has always hallmarked the macho world of metal has been around since Vanilla Fudge in the ’60s, but no one has pushed it this far before. But then not many have offered up lyrics as righteously dumb as “Can’t explain all the feelings that you’re making me feel” either. In fact, the song that contains that ripe couplet, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” is melodically strong and structurally sound, but Hawkins tarts it up like a drag queen, taking it over the top of ridiculousness for reasons of his own.
The amusingly titled second album makes it clear that the Darkness doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Roy Thomas Baker, the producer who created Queen’s multi-tracked onslaught back in the ’70s, is on hand to reinforce the comparisons, building Dan Hawkins’ guitar into a passable impression of Brian May’s stringed choir. Again armed with a couple of dead catchy rock arias (“Hazel Eyes,” “Girlfriend” and the title track), the band (containing a new bassist, Richie Edwards) plunges deep into goofiness, wearing a big, proud smile. Despite the dumbshit leer it promises, “Knockers” is, in fact, humble and a bit clever (“Oh crumbs, I’m all thumbs / Lying here with you / You’re beautiful and busty / But I’m a little rusty”), while “Bald” addresses male anxiety (“His hair, at an alarming pace / Running away from his face”) with the overstated disdain of a fellow sufferer fearing his own shortcomings. “English Country Garden,” however, makes dumb agrarian puns of the words “cock” and “forking,” and lacks the same ironic charm.