The Darkness - Pinewood Smile

The Darkness Pinewood Smile cover
The Darkness
Pinewood Smile
Cooking Vinyl
2017
5.5
Average: 5.1 (24 votes)
The Darkness managed to taste success playing the most unlikely style of hard rock, mixing Queen’s often down and dirty rock sound with The Sparks eccentricity and then cranking it to 11. They sold a couple of millions before splitting up which ended up with them losing momentum and disappearing up whatever alley they came out of… only to reunite several years and rehab attempts later, initially with their original lineup and progressively changing drummers, to settle with Roger Taylor’s kid, Rufus.
 
A couple of albums that were produced after the band got back together didn’t manage to make the band chart again as high (the lack of a major label deal becoming an evident albatross around their collective neck) turning platinum sales into copper ones, but the band also struggled with an identity crisis and experimenting a bit without being able to either recapture their mojo or reinvent themselves.
 
“Pinewood Smile” is their fifth attempt, which tries hard and almost succeeds to mirror the carefree band of the first couple of albums that filled arenas in their native Britain. It almost sounds convincing too, but what sounded original and iconoclastic back then, aided by a large promo campaign, five albums later sounds a little tired, stale and borderline kitsch… still charming in a bizarre campy way, but not something you’d take too seriously.
 
While, “All the Pretty Girls” and “Buccaneers of Hispaniola” have each their own charms, the one joyous and the other heavy on eccentricity, things quickly go south a bit in “Solid Gold”
 
“Southern Trains” tries to get things back on track, but it’s on a one way track to hell, with no foot-breaks.
 
I take it that “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is not a question that applies to the band members! The song itself is a bad, self-absorbed slow song, akin to a ballad, but totally ruined by more kittenisms than a crazy cat lady could survive.
 
“Japanese Prisoner of Love” is like having a solo bukkake. If offers some release, but not the pleasure it implies; the guitar tone nicely apes Brian May’s, but the songwriting is on the wall… in brown stained letter. It’s otherwise pretty crappy.
 
“Lay Down with Me, Barbara” for some reason conjured at some point a bit of Duran Duran; I suppose during one of the quieter moments or the solo, but other than fluid part, it offers precious little to Barbara, or the listener…
 
“I Wish I Was in Heaven” implies that Hawkins wishes he was high. Me too. Cause I wouldn’t have to suffer the tenth song with annoying falsettos. I mean, used sparingly, it’s a nice technique. Or used excessively, but in a proficient way to convey a certain mood ie as King Diamond does them. But the awkward way in which Jhaw uses them, and probably even more than in the olden golden days, is easy to get on your nerves.
 
“Happiness” is so much better… a joyous song, where he only goes over the top slightly and just momentarily electing to keep his singing more natural.
 
If someone told me Brian May was singing parts on “Stampede of Love”, I wouldn’t doubt them, but it’s probably someone else, maybe the sibling? It’s actually not all that bad.
 
Then not one or two or three, but four bonuses bring the album to its conclusion; the neon lit “Uniball” that sounds more like a fragment of what could be a decent song. “Rack of Glam” that sounds better than half of the songs on the album, initially sounding like bad proto-Queen, then like really bad AC without the DC. “Seagulls (Losing My Virginity)” is a tender bender that is not in danger of winning a Nobel for its words of wisdom… and “Rock in Space” feels like Queen on acid. Polyphonic as fuck... almost as camp as “Flash” minus the cool chorus. Sad that most of these “bonuses” sound better than the latter part of the album.
 
If this was the third “The Darkness” album, mayhaps they would have had a somewhat better run and avoided disbanding. It’s not as terrible and lackluster as their reunion album and show a band trying to get back to their roots, but failing to do so, because they’re unable to replicate something spontaneous and probably way to afraid to set sail towards a new destination by updating their identity and changing their focus to something still rock, but not as cliché ridden. Justin Hawkins can sing much better than he does, but he simply chooses not to, by deciding to take the piss once more, because that worked back in the early 00s. Well, it’s almost two decades later and we’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.

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