About a year and a half ago, when the Darkness’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was all over the place, a friend asked me if I thought the band was joking. I replied, “Maybe, but don’t you like jokes?” One of the many, many ways that Nirvana ruined white rock and roll is that, since 1991, American rock fans are suspicious of levity. Not only is it inconceivable that a band could consider the paradigm of late-’70s–’80s metal as something other than deeply incorrect (and don’t get me started on the implicit class bias therein), but a band that likes a laugh in public is to be mistrusted.
One Way Ticket to Hell . . . and Back, the Darkness’s second record, is slathered with ornate production courtesy of Roy Thomas Baker, whose credits amount to the greatest hits of cocaine (Queen, the Cars, Journey). So it’s much less immediate than Permission to Land, which is from top to bottom a perfect rock record. But here’s an album that begins with an ominous pan flute soundscape, and further along perpetrates an “I Believe” reprise dedicated to “that glorious gack,” a giddy Riverdance tribute (“Hazel Eyes”), and two ill-advised, overcooked ballads evoking, as the NYT used to call him, “Mr. Loaf.” And as before, there’s riffs, riffs, and more riffs, and the top bench-clearer—Justin Hawkin’s hysterical shriek, conveying some really terrific turns of phrase, as if Morrissey’s model was not Oscar Wilde, but UFO’s Phil Mogg.
The very existence of the Darkness posits: What would an English hair-metal movement in the wake of Def Leppard’s Pyromania sound like? It would sound like this record, a repellent notion to folks who not only still resent metal-loving frat boys, but are convinced a loud rock band with a sense of humor can only be a titanic fraud. How sad.