After only two albums, The Darkness are beginning to look more and more like a novelty act and becoming less and less novel. Many a die-hard metal fan hailed the British group as the ambassadors of real rock when their inaugural effort, “Permission to Land,” was released in 2003, complete with the unexpected hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” But The Darkness seem less interested in breaking new ground than in digging up the well-worn dirt of late ’70s and early ’80s arena rock. Their newest release, “One Way Ticket to Hell … And Back,” spares little in channeling the spirits of Queen, KISS and Judas Priest, and in doing so, it tills ground that is perilously close to being fallow.
Clearly enamored of the grandiosity that suffused the glam rock era, The Darkness import a large variety of eclectic instruments and sound effects to layer the album, from pan pipes to bagpipes to noses snorting cocaine in the opening seconds of the title track. A full-string orchestra is brought in for the catchy power ballad “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (or, as frontman Justin Hawkins sings it, “a good idear at the toyme”). The result is a dizzying whirlwind of sound that never really pauses to quiet down.
It’s not really clear in the first place why any band would want to resurrect a musical period viewed as a dark age by so many critics and listeners, but The Darkness do not stop to apologize or explain. Instead, they seem perfectly content to flirt with squareness in spandex catsuits. Even in spite of itself, though, “One Way Ticket to Hell … And Back” is built around the main technical strengths of the band, which are actually quite formidable: Dan Hawkins on guitar and Justin Hawkins on vocals, both of them sounding remarkably self-assured. Dan shows startling talent with serpentine lead riffs on “Hazel Eyes” and power chords coming straight out of the nether-regions on “Bald.” Justin misses nary an opportunity to shift his singing into a soaring falsetto, constantly walking a tight-rope between sincerity and self-parody.
Indeed, the most redeeming quality of the album is the knowledge that The Darkness probably aren’t taking themselves all that seriously. “One Way Ticket to Hell … And Back” is a record to be played during a game of beer-pong, not analyzed over a single malt. The band seems to be having a tremendous amount of fun, and on “Hazel Eyes” their energy manages to break through in a cascade of crystalline guitar runs and gleeful shrieks. “Bald” is a purposely over-the-top dirge filled with nothing but gloom and dread as a man laments his hair loss: “Look at me, look at me, look at me. Oh, oh. Heaven forbid!”
This playful streak is refreshing, even if the nonstop musical exhibition of all things metal begins to drag. None of the songs especially stands out or is particularly memorable, but then again there are no bona fide flops either. This is more than can be said for most bands today, but for a group as promising as The Darkness was thought to be, it is a fair bit disappointing. Their sound is still more of a knock-off (albeit a very good one) of bygone acts than an authentic original.