For many bands, experiencing the thrill of a hit single early on in their career can be as much a blessing as a curse. The looming stigma of being known as a one-hit wonder is at times nearly impossible to shake, making the success of a debut single a potential kiss of death. But while some are doomed to be viewed as a one-trick pony by the masses, U.K. rockers the Darkness continue to beat the odds, proving with each subsequent LP that they are far more than 2003’s chart-topping anthem “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” With more than a decade between the release of their debut full-length and their fourth studio album, Last of Our Kind, which was released on May 27, the Darkness remain one of glam rock’s most memorable outfits, keeping fans (old and new alike) weak in the knees over cuts like “Open Fire” and the equally catchy “Hammer & Tongs.”
For frontman Justin Hawkins, the journey from Permission to Land to last June’s highly anticipated release was one shaped by vivid landscapes and unexpected change. “We decided to go away and write somewhere nice, so we started at Ibiza and then we went to Ireland,” Hawkins explains. “The inspiration was upheaval, turmoil, and heartbreak, that sort of stuff, you know? There was a lot of change going on around the genesis of the album, and as soon as it was finished we had to change drummers again…. It was born of uncertainty.”
Recorded on the remote west coast of Ireland (which also inspired the album’s ax-wielding fourth track, “Roaring Waters”), Last of Our Kind was shaped by the band’s connection to the isle’s remote and unpredictable locus. “We were inspired by the places that we worked in. That’s kind of why we wanted to work on these little islands that were very pretty and very remote,” Hawkins says. “It was particularly good because it was really tempestuous in terms of the weather and it has its own sort of microclimate: It’s right next to the Atlantic, so on the one side of the island, you’ve got things like palm trees and such. It’s a little like The Wicker Man, the first Wicker Man. I mean, the community, they don’t do all that sacrificing stuff; there was no burning of policemen or anything like that, but there was that sort of otherworldliness to it and it really was spectacular…the absence of the sort of metropolitan distractions, you know?”
The end result is distinctively gripping, resonant with the sort of instrumentation and emotives indicative of growth fostered by transition and adaptation. These benefits have given the Darkness the freedom to move past the limitations of their beloved debut.
“This album’s been really good,” Hawkins reflects. “Straight away we were playing five [tracks] from it, and I enjoy playing the new stuff as much as the stuff from the first album, and that’s the first time that I’ve been able to say that, really.” Halfway through their first tour in support of Last of Our Kind, Hawkins and his bandmates are finally getting the chance to free themselves from the weight of external expectations, in favor of their own aspirations. “We’re halfway through the first big proper tour,” Hawkins says. “Now we’re able to do TV and radio sessions and play new stuff [and] not feel obliged to play ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ or the things that have stopped us from being able to move on. We’re able to be a bit stubborn about what we’re playing and really sort of force our way through the undergrowth that has built up around that album, to use a jungle metaphor.”
Although destined to leave some fans discontented, this stubbornness, in the long run, is beneficial, giving the Darkness the opportunity to progress in relation to their aesthetic, goals, and sound. “You’ve gotta resist the temptation to be nice and to just give people what they want,” says Hawkins. “I can understand why people want the Darkness to play ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love,’ because it was our hit, but that doesn’t help us at all, really. Everyone knows how that song goes. You don’t need to hear us play it again, you know? I think [that] playing the new stuff is much more rewarding for an artist. Now we’ve sort of realized that we don’t really care anymore and we’re not being nice about it. In a way this album has taught us to stop being pussies, if that’s not too much of an offensive word.”
Thankfully, the Darkness’s current approach has given their audience a chance to immerse themselves in the band’s present, as opposed to its past. “I think that there’s two kinds of fans as well: Some bands have a fan base which really wants the band to succeed, and then there’s a different sort of fan base that wants the band to stay small and be theirs and to stay unique. They want them to stay special and small, but we’re quite lucky because we have a fan base that wants us to succeed because some people think that we’re a joke.
“It’s a unique situation, where everyone wants us to do well — [where] all of our fans want us to do well. All that remains is for the rest of the world to agree.”
Judging by the strength of the new LP, that outcome wouldn’t seem as unlikely as it might sound. In the meantime, Hawkins and his bandmates anticipate continuously pushing themselves along a decidedly visceral vector. “Album five is when we’re going to be able to depart from [our current] process,” Hawkins says. “We’ve decided that we’re going to make a body of work that’s all riffs and all blokes screaming over some riffs and try to make it as powerful and ridiculous as we can…that’s how we made our name. I don’t know why we’ve ever tried to do anything else.”
Hawkins is just as excited as his fans are about his band’s return to NYC. Just as it has for numberless acts before them, New York has played a monumental role in the Darkness’s career — in addition to being a great place to indulge in vegan eats and topnotch shopping. “It’s going to be really rewarding,” says Hawkins. “We’ve got really fond memories of playing New York. It’s always been a really significant place for us. One of the first shows we did in America was at the Bowery Ballroom and…it’s been a milestone for us. It’s a great place and everyone loves it, so it’s going to be a good night.”
Catch the Darkness at Irving Plaza on October 27. For ticket information, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 26, 2015