Hellooooo, Internet! Are you ready to rock? Let me see your hands, oh yeah!
The Lady of the House will cheerfully admit to anyone that when it comes to popular music, she’s as unpretentious as it gets. “Three chords and a 4/4 beat and you’re set, huh?” I asked. “I’m a simple woman with simple taste,” she replied with a smile. I keep a few playlists in Google Play full of surefire hits for when we travel or work together, rather than inflict any of my experimental electro-pop or scathing industrial metal on her tolerant nature. But recently, while working on a project in the garage, she asked why I never played her any of The Darkness’s music, especially their breakthrough hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” which she liked. I indulgently rolled my eyes in response. I heard the song back in 2003 or so when it came out. I didn’t like it. I took them to be ironic posers almost to the point of being a novelty act — “Ah, hahaha, yes, isn’t that funny, a current band dressing up as ’70s rock gods.” Rachel Bolan, bassist for the ’80s MTV hair-metal band Skid Row, once said in an interview that they had briefly considered naming their own band “Darkness.” Upon further reflection, they realized, “why not just go all the way and call it ‘Dorkness’?” he laughed. I assume it goes without saying that ’80s metalheads were not exactly known for their sophisticated humor or sense of ironic distance, so if even they couldn’t go that far… long story short, I assumed the joke would wear off quickly and that would be the end of that.
That was the end of that, until a couple months ago. I had given them nary a thought all these years. But I, too, believe in a thing called love, even if I don’t fancy that particular melodic expression of it, so I pulled up a compilation playlist and turned on the bluetooth speaker as we set to work. Within seconds, the meat-and-potatoes rock formula had her toes tapping and her head nodding as she beamed with delight. Content with my good deed, I prepared to patiently endure the cheesiness.
Well, that’s weird, I thought later. That was actually really good!
“’70s FM radio comfort-food music” is how I described them to a friend the other day. Of course, there are and have always been a lot of bands mining that territory. But The Darkness are a cut above the usual stadium rock tribute act, I think. They may very well be partially tongue-in-cheek (“Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?“), and the fine line between clichéd and heartfelt is never so blurry as in a song like “One Way Ticket,” the contractually-obligated (but undeniably infectious) lament of cocaine addiction, or the lighters-in-the-air power ballad “The Conquerers,” but their pastiche is far too skillful to be just a means to an ironic laugh. If I had to get the descriptive ball rolling, I’d ask you to imagine Freddie Mercury fronting AC/DC (“Every Inch of You“), but a clever magpie like singer Justin Hawkins is happy to pilfer shiny objects from all over the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. He swoops in and plucks a forgotten chorus from some Def Leppard outtakes and renames it “Messenger.” Thin Lizzy isn’t around to claim paternity over the strutting “Givin’ Up,” so he might as well have fun with it. He borrows some glam-rock glitter from bands like Slade and Sweet and sprinkles it all over songs like “Hazel Eyes” and “All the Pretty Girls.” And we even have a resolution to the question that has bedeviled music scholars for decades, namely, “Precisely how close can one come to ripping off Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song,’ both musically and lyrically, without actually infringing on copyright?” The answer is “Barbarian.”
Maybe the smirking-and-winking image is what allows them to get away with album covers featuring hot babes slathered in syrup, reclining on a bed of French toast, or unsubtle anthems like “Knockers” (where to be fair, he shrieks not about boobies but about how “I just love what you’ve done with your hair!”) But of course there’s no point in intellectualizing it. It’s music for a good time. So, naturally, take off your thinking cap. Listen to your heart. “Everybody Have a Good Time.” I still can’t help whipping out the air guitar each time I hear that one.
I still don’t like “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” though. That’s the last song on the playlist. Hopefully she won’t notice we rarely make it that far along. I’ll do many things for love, but I’d rather not do that.