The fifth full-length release and the first Darkness outing for Cooking Vinyl, Pinewood Smile is also the inaugural studio jaunt for new drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of Queen's Roger Taylor), who took over for Emily Dolan Davies after the release of 2015's excellent Last of Our Kind. Less seaworthy than its predecessor but delivered with the same freewheeling sonic brinksmanship, Pinewood Smile feels both rote and ready; a fully stocked tinder box with nary a match in sight. To be fair, Last of Our Kind was almost too good of a distillation of what makes the Darkness so compelling -- at their best, they're a near perfect amalgam of Thin Lizzy, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC; both self-aware and hopelessly in love with the dumb pageantry of rock & roll.
In their multi-platinum pomp early last decade, The Darkness offered an irresistible mix of arena-sized anthems, smutty humour and bollock-busting live spectacle. Now three albums into their post-rehab, post-reunion chapter, their lovingly crafted semi-parody songs remain instant moodlifters, but knob gags are sparser and budgets clearly tighter. Having recently toured with Guns N.
It's a paradox: In order to take the Darkness seriously, you have to be willing to take a joke. Justin Hawkins is an award-winning songwriter who can layer guitars like Boston’s Tom Scholz and shatter glass like Ronnie James Dio. And yet, he has come off like both a rock god and a regular schlub putting on his unitard one leg at a time—making campy, funny hard rock that never tipped over into parody during their inevitably brief commercial peak in 2000.
Putting it mildly, The Darkness are not like other bands. Should their pantomime act and output be filed under the ‘novelty’ label? Or are they just a hangover from a time when serious music was just sillier? Does the very fact we feel that we have to ask such questions say more about our own, more self-important musical era than it does about the band themselves?
The answer to all these questions, as it always is with The Darkness, is yes, only more. It’s hard, therefore, to judge the output of such a singular act as you would any other band.