I like rock that makes me want to drink — yeah, pal, there are brief
moments when I don’t wanna. But after congress with the Darkness’ second album,
so moistly anticipated by fans and financiers, I whelped a dry streak. So no toasts.
I’ll dance a little, though, if you promise not to watch.
Out of the gloom that shrouded the millennium’s dawn, when all was Coldplay and stiff electronica, Suffolk’s ironically named the Darkness shone forth like a klieg beam of silly hard rock. And oh boy, was England ready for them: the castrato wail of Justin Hawkins, the dumfuk heavy riffs of brother Dan Hawkins, and hooks glittery enough to yank T. Rex outta the Cretaceous. The Darkness’ 2002 debut EP left monster footprints, and 2003’s Permission To Land entered the Brit charts at the summit, stomping to multiplatinum sales and entrancing the whole wyde worlde (though somewhat less in Yankland).You’d think their follow-up package, which arrives Tuesday, would come out squirting similar fizz. Well, the caffeine cola is present in One Way Ticket to Hell . . . and Back, you just gotta get past a little, uh, darkness. It seems the band got their heads twisted by Success, and they’d burned down to a rubble of drugs and mutual hatred when the time came to assault the studio again. It’s a pity they suffered, because then they had to write about it. And pain fights fun.A truncheonlike hint of this dissolution drops right at the starting line, as Ticket commences with the whoosh of hoovering nostrils and a damburst of Gregorian moans and Zamfir pipes. Shall we, then, experience some excess?More like a famine, at least in the craft of the first three tracks, all sporting buoyant verse melodies punctured by detumescent choruses, and all, perhaps not coincidentally, co-composed by fired bassist Frankie Poullain. Thanks to drummer Ed Graham, though, all eight rockers on this 10-song, 35-minute disc whack a mean groove.If this were an LP, I’d always play Side 2. The better-written second half cuts some real Persian rug, as Justin Hawkins exploits his freakish range to the multitracked max on the Chinese hoedown of “Hazel Eyes,” the whooping Chuck Berry density of “Girlfriend” and the giddy piano-pound of “English Country Garden.” And brother Dan Hawkins again proves himself a magnificent riff chopper and as good a lead guitarist as he needs to be, waxing lascivious on the slightly slowed-down “Bald,” which weaves a chorus rich enough that it should’ve been piled on a few more times. It’s the best song on the album (though there are six better on Permission).The two “serious” ballads, both about a po’ boy who lost his way, are grandiose enough for a coronation, as they should be if you’re gonna hire Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, Journey) to produce; he also makes the rhythm punch through nice and clean, the way he did with the Cars. And by way of dubious bonus, you may find yourself humming songs you hate — a significant factor in the world of pop, where the memory-irritation factor often overwhelms notions of mere quality. All in all, Ticket rivals vintage Sparks or Queen, while panting behind prime Bolan or the Darkness’ first album.More than anything, as an overworked follow-up to a classic debut, Ticket reminds me of Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion. But it’s a quarter as long, thank god. And not as stupid.THE DARKNESS | One Way Ticket to Hell . . . and Back | (Atlantic)