The Dark­ness

Pinewood Smile

Classic Rock - - The Hard Stuff -

Clown princes of self-spoof­ing glam con­tinue their bumpy come­back.

In their multi-plat­inum pomp early last decade, The Dark­ness of­fered an ir­re­sistible mix of arena-sized an­thems, smutty hu­mour and bol­lock­bust­ing live spec­ta­cle. Now three al­bums into their post-re­hab, post-re­union chap­ter, their lov­ingly crafted semi­par­ody songs re­main in­stant moodlifters, but knob gags are sparser and bud­gets clearly tighter.

Hav­ing re­cently toured with Guns N’ Roses, the band’s clas­sic rock cre­den­tials are stronger than ever, es­pe­cially as Pinewood Smile was recorded with new drum­mer Ru­fus Tiger Tay­lor, son of Roger, and pro­ducer Adrian Bushy, a dou­ble Gram­my­win­ner for his work with Foo Fight­ers and Muse. And yet the songcraft feels a lit­tle bumpy, closer to the un­der­whelm­ing mixed bag of their 2012 come­back Hot Cakes than to the glo­ri­ous op­er­atic bom­bast of its 2015 se­quel Last of Our Kind.

Mar­ry­ing Möt­ley Crüe-level in­nu­endo with sar­donic com­ment on fickle pop fame, All The Pretty Girls is weapons-grade par­tymetal pas­tiche: ‘Plenty of ac­tion, mas­sive at­trac­tion, when you’re sell­ing out sta­di­ums,’ quips Justin Hawkins, the Rus­sell Brand of rock. But many of the best songs here are the least typ­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly those that com­bine low­brow wit with an edge of anger Solid Gold is a case in point, it’s AC/DC sized hipthrust­ing riff married to a scald­ing con­fes­sional lyric about the co­caine-fu­elled cyn­i­cism of the mu­sic busi­ness. “We’re never gonna stop… shit­ting out solid gold!” Hawkins shrieks in full ear-burst­ing cas­trato.

An­other left-field killer track is South­ern Trains, a rare de­tour into snarly punkmetal with a lyric that lam­basts the wide­ly­loathed, strife-torn rail fran­chise that links Lon­don to the English south coast. ‘It’s a jour­ney into pure de­spair/There are fuck­ing ar­se­holes ev­ery­where!’ Hawkins trills win­ningly. A hand­ful of straight-faced power bal­lads also stand out. Why Don’t The Beau­ti­ful Cry is a classy windswept weepie while Lay Me Down, Bar­bara must surely be the most Morrissey-es­que ti­tle Hawkins has ever crooned, a se­duc­tion song that sub­verts but also cel­e­brates naff ro­man­tic clichés.

Alas, qual­ity lev­els dip markedly in the al­bum’s lat­ter stages, where an­o­dyne filler meets ran­dom scat­o­log­i­cal hu­mour. The clos­ing num­ber Stam­pede of Love is a fin­ger­pick­ing, coun­try-rock heart-twanger based around a se­ries of jokes mock­ing a fat friend: ‘I saw you at the beach to­day/You looked quite thin but you were just far away.’ This is fee­ble stuff, more Benny Hill than Rus­sell Brand. When they hit the tar­get, The Dark­ness are un­touch­able, but too much of Pinewood Smile feels like a half-hearted wank when it should have been a mighty ear-shaft­ing.

River­side man’s fifth solo al­bum most per­sonal and mu­si­cal yet.

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