ALBUM REVIEW: The Darkness – Pinewood Smile

Cooking Vinyl - October 6th 2017

Its always been one of those oh so ironic American stereotypes that the English have bad teeth when the truth is that Americans have amongst the worst teeth in the world along with us Australians and UK dental health ranks them joint top in the world league with Germany.  TV and movies of course would have you believe otherwise. It is rather regrettable therefore that with a cover showing Justin’s rather British gnashers (sans gap) I fear that despite the auto-tuned (we presume) whiteness of said teeth, Mr Hawkins might just have set back the cause of British teeth back a few decades. The fight against fake news will continue I presume…

There are plenty of similarly important issues covered on Pinewood Smile, an album released today and for which I am still awaiting my signed vinyl as a ‘pledger’. It’s another one of those pledge campaigns where the general public seems to have the album in their hot little hands well before those who stump up their ‘hard-earned’ well in advance of the event. If I can digress further for a second or two longer, what looked like an excellent concept of fan funding releases has actually turned into a rather disappointing exercise for me personally with none of the bands I’ve supported managing to make me feel like I’m getting anything before those who simply ‘rock up’ to their local musical emporium and swipe their cards. I bought another album the other day via similar means who promised a ‘download’ in advance of the general release date and a guaranteed postage of said ‘artistic product’ before it arrives in stores… Well we’ll see about that won’t we.

For those that have ridden with The Darkness since day one a new album and a renewed lease of life seem to be on offer here on album number five. It’s a groovy little thing, very British and shot through with trademark humour and plenty of chunky riffs, repeatable lyrics and choruses hewn from the very bedrock of the Earth’s largest mountains. If you loved the conceptual ‘Last of Our Kind’ from 2015 then sadly there’s no update on the Vikings, just a few songs about late trains and the trials of being a ‘stadium filler’. It’s not all serious though, as Justin jokes in the notes:

“Why should anybody care? Because if you don’t, we’re fucked!! History will remember us as the apathetic generation who negligently ushered in a dreadful dystopian age that may or may not come to be known as ‘The Rise of the Arseclowns’. We cannot allow this to continue! You may not give a shit about Brexit or Trump, but PLEASE… give a shit about The Darkness otherwise the last bastion of cultural sensibility will fall and our airwaves will be polluted by meaningless pop purveyed by arseholes and morons… Oh wait!”
Opening with a song about pretty girls the aptly titled “All the Pretty Girls” the song takes you on a trek through the general backstage area of any large concert – its full of genuine angst (wait a minute, is that right?) and tackles a pretty weighty issue – the over supply of ‘pretty girls’ in the general proximity of gentlemen who ply their trade strumming their instruments. It is of course a song title to make an ‘offended’ feminist’s blood boil even without hearing it, and we really do have to remember in this day and age that humour is akin to unstable radioactive material and should certainly never be used ever to discriminate against people without a ‘sense of humor’ (no, it is a real medical condition you uncaring, insensitive bastards). Cool song but, as we Australians say.
Some of us of course have heard it all before, in our case on the Australian tour from earlier in the year where we were treated to 5 of the 10 songs here on the ‘standard’ release (the deluxe release adds four more equally pleasing standards to be). It’s actually rather nice to hear them in the flesh as the good lord intended, free from crowd shouts like “You’re shit” (Bunbury) or “Play Thing Called Love” (Perth, after every song). Both of which we hasten to add were isolated incidents, well except for that last one.
Second up ‘Buccaneers Of Hispaniola’ adds a sense of historical jauntiness to that opening ‘cerebral treatise‘ of Pretty Girls, and  smacks of attempting to jump on the established ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. It’s a song that really should have been sung in Spanish and re-titled ‘Bucaneros de Hispana‘ and heaps on even more insensitivity, this time cultural! On the other hand those culturally insensitive enough (like us) might just find themselves conjuring up images of a prancing Justin taking to the stage of your local arena beclad in bandana, large hooped earrings and a frilly pirate-style shirt and were it not for the crimes of the circus community maybe even a parrot perched at a jaunty angle on his shoulder?
‘Solid Gold’ (surely the best whimsical take on the Brother’s Grimm ‘Die Goldene Gans’ you will hear all year) has a lesson for us all in it’s lyrics as the band “address the turbulent nature of the music industry and how they have enjoyed its flamboyant highs and spectacular lows”. Or so they say, to us it’s just an ‘arse-pumpingly’ stellar tune that may well cause a sight bowel movement upon first and subsequent listens, such is the power of it’s ‘aurum solidum‘ refrain.
‘Southern Trains’ that follows those fulsome openers by contrast is a ‘potty-mouthed’ discourse on the sad state of a particular rail service provider, either that or a rather grand way to give ‘constructive’ customer feedback outside of the usual channels. It’s also a rather catchy song and surely a rather beautiful way of touting for ‘jingle business’ opportunities with the competition?
It’s not until the ‘epically proportioned’ lament ‘Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry’ (Why the fuck would they you might uncharitably ask?) that you really get a feel of the metaphysical weight of this big-balled opus. It’s a song that is at once delicate, emotional and thought-provoking. It’s also rather nice and funky, though in saying that I fear I take away a little of the magic.
In comparison ‘Japanese Prisoner of Love’ seems almost deliberately whimsical as it displays it’s bare buttocks at the point that would traditionally have been viewed as ‘track one side two’. Metal riffs and melodic verses convey a prison song of Queen-like proportions, threaded with an epic wail that can only come from ‘prison-like’ nocturnally painful excursions.
‘Lay Down With Me, Barbara’ on the other hand, whilst showing a nice use of the comma and an obsession with rhyming Barbara with ‘candelabra’ and cunning use of both ‘chandelier’ and ‘Brassiere’, or as some lyric sites would have it ‘Brazier’ (which would surely have been an entirely different and more difficult proposition). It’s another wistful romantic winner, meaty enough to make the live set, and has a quite mesmerisingly beautiful closing spoken word sentiment to send you into raptures.
Drawing the album to a close ‘I Wish I was in Heaven’ is super catchy falsetto-fueled mayhem; whilst ‘Happiness’ is sadly not the definitive Ken Dodd cover, and that in itself has upset me sufficiently to skip any further comment…
Leading us home ‘Stampede of Love’ seems to reference those American bards Steel Panther – who were always the ‘go-to’ band to relate a bawdy tale over a nice jangly acoustic ballad. The Darkness mix that with The Beatles ‘Blackbird’ to defy all potential description in a tale of love of a large lady.It’s an ‘interesting’ way to end an album with such delicacy and subtlety,but at least rekindles those childhood memories of ‘donkey rides’…
The Darkness has done it again, brace yourselves for contact…


Justin Hawkins – vocals & guitar / Dan Hawkins – guitar / Frankie Poullain – bass / Rufus Tiger Taylor – drums

 The album is released on CD, limited edition Deluxe CD (featuring four bonus tracks), Gatefold Heavyweight Vinyl, and in both Standard and Deluxe digital versions. Though if you pledged like me who knows when it will hit the mailbox. (note: it arrived on 10th October and as it gently thudded onto the doormat and ripped it open all my misgivings were soon forgotten)

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