I initially took them as a joke. Actually, it seems that most people took them for a joke the first time they saw them. After all, stadium rock played by skinny blokes with big hair in tight catsuits, leaping around could only be a parody of the 80s hair-metal acts. Hell, they even looked a bit like Bad News. But then you saw them tear through a live perform with absolute commitment and without a hint of irony (their opening set at Glastonbury in 2003 was a wonder to behold), and you thought maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t being done tongue-in-cheek. They were The Darkness, and they cared not for your indie cool, they just wanted to be an old school rock band with big choruses, and even bigger guitars (and a questionable grasp of sexual politics).
Perhaps The Darkness weren’t taking themselves too seriously, but for a period of a couple of years they were embraced heartily by rock fans old and young. Perhaps this was a reaction to the somewhat po-faced garage rock revival movement and the hilariously awful nu-metal scene. Although they perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, rock fans were yearning for some irreverent escapism, and that’s exactly what The Darkness provided. Their debut album, Permission to Land, was an old school album in the purest sense, even down to the hit singles towering over filler track, while other album tracks could be considered hidden gems. Permission to Land sold by the lorry load full, despite it being dumb and utterly disposable. That said, the hits from Permission to Land deserved to be hits though. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and “Love is Only a Feeling” were both pop-rock masterpieces, while “Growing on Me” was fun, if not quite on the same level. Lyrically, The Darkness left a lot to be desired, and harked back to less politically correct times, but you couldn’t deny their way with a tune, a big catchy riff and a chorus. The thing is, if they had written insightful thought-provoking lyrics, they just wouldn’t have fit with the dumb but fun music that they were steamrollering through an otherwise plain rock scene. Let’s face it, Coldplay weren’t offering this level of entertainment value.
Permission to Land is an album you listen to for the singles, a couple of decent album tracks and a nostalgia hit. On the whole it hasn’t aged well, but that really wasn’t the point of it. Indeed, Permission to Land and The Darkness in general were a much needed reminder that rock music could be fun and offered you just under 40 minutes to forget how shitty the outside world was. It didn’t need to be a consistent and lengthy career, it just needed to be a sharp jab in the ribs of those that maintained that music should be taken seriously.
As it turns out, The Darkness had a limited shelf life. Their follow-up album failed to make anywhere near the same impact on the charts, followed by stints in rehab and the inevitable split. In the grand scheme had done all they needed to do and made their point. Job done.
Of course, The Darkness made the inevitable come back and seem to have eventually found a happy equilibrium, enjoying a modest amount of success, albeit nowhere near the overwhelming level they achieved with Permission to Land. They’ve even appeared on a few television shows in recent years, and when I caught a recent performance on one, it was heartening to see that it was an absolute mess and the band had finally unashamedly embraced irony.