From the moment the Darkness came out of seemingly nowhere with their 2003 debut album, Permission to Land, they’ve fought off and simultaneously embraced the easy Spinal Tap comparisons. From Justin Hawkins’ cloud-scraping vocals to soaring guitars that flash by at blink-and-you’ll-miss-them velocity to songs bearing titles like “Love on the Rocks With No Ice” and “Knockers,” it was a tough choice: laugh or bang your head?
Who says you can’t do both? In the nearly two decades since Permission to Land, and its hit single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” made the Darkness glam-metal stars, they’ve released albums with varying quality. Follow-up One Way Ticket to Hell … and Back (from 2005) is almost as fun; Last of Our Kind (2015) is not.
Motorheart, their seventh LP, isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about those Spinal Tap associations. (Is the perky, colorful album cover the most overly phallic of the past decade? Yes, it is.) But like their last record, 2019’s Easter Is Cancelled, Motorheart has a chewy melodic core at its center. This is hard rock with a decidedly power-pop way of thinking. Hawkins gets the joke, but he also wants you to know just how serious he is about his music.
But he’s not too serious. The nine songs take about 35 minutes total – just enough time for the snappy choruses, even snappier riffs and Hawkins’ ballooning falsetto to get in and out of there without much bloat to slow things down. Opener “Welcome Tae Glasgae” is about as complicated as things get on Motorheart, with galloping drums and bagpipes setting up a song about a place where “the women are gorgeous and the food is okay.”
From there, it’s the usual mix of straightforward hard rock (“Jussy’s Girl” – “Have you got a friend who looks just like you but maybe isn’t as fussy?” Hawkins asks), Queen-indebted operatic pop (“Sticky Situations”) and the occasional song about sex robots that’s backed by a marching stop-start rhythm (title track). It’s all good fun but probably not something worth revisiting too often. In the moment, however, the Darkness’ rock ‘n’ roll sounds like one of the genre’s last great hopes, all delivered with a wink, a smile and an armful of killer riffs.