In 2017, The Darkness unleashed their finest opus since their debut. Much like Permission to Land, Pinewood Smile was an album for the ages. It was the most Darkness album they’d ever recorded. Full of chunky, balls-out riffs, taking the piss out of Southern Rail, the music industry and questioning why good-looking people don’t cry (we do, just not in public) and enough testicle-bursting screams to satiate the most demanding.
So, two years on, can we expect Pinewood Smile II? In a word: no. Instead, they’ve gone full-on concept album. The last time a successful band went that route, we got American Idiot and other than the yearly meme of asking Billie Joe Armstrong if he’s woken up on 1st October, it was a bit… well, shit. As a band, they’re a love letter to everything that was great about 70s rock without becoming pastiche. Which is why Easter is Cancelled’s opening ditty is entitled “Rock and Roll Deserves to Die”. Wait, fucking what?! One of the greatest bands of the 21st century is saying it should die?
Before you get those pitchforks and torches at the ready, remember it’s The Darkness and they’re telling us a story. They just better have a good reason for such a ridiculous statement. Turns out they do, but because this is a concept album and thus, such is the mechanics of a plot, if I told you, I’d be a naughty person for divulging spoilers. So listen and find out for yourself.
But what of the music? Well, it’s The Darkness. Where its predecessor was a short, sharp, concentrated dose of everything which makes them awesome and very much felt like the follow-up to the debut, this feels more like a more mature, fully realised version of One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back. You know what you’re getting when you listen to one of their albums. Sure, there’s still those classic numbers with all the standard hallmarks but there’s plenty of experimentation for good measure. Take “Heavy Metal Lover”, for example. Aptly titled, it sees them getting their metal on and going full NWOBHM/thrashy whilst “Choke On It” is laden with rage.
Elsewhere, as no strangers to the power of a balls-out ballad (see “Love is Only a Feeling”), they’ve revisited the idea of a power ballad on “Heart Explodes” to out-80s the 80s. The only difference is there’s not the same level of ozone layer-damaging levels of hairspray. It’s done again on “In Another Life”, only with the addition of acoustic guitars and despite the pining lyrics, feels victorious. Then there’s “Deck Chair”. Its artsy tone is like an homage to those early Queen albums, dark and sombre, ambling its way to the finish line.
“How Can I Lose Your Love” and “Live ‘til I Die” are kicky, upbeat numbers very much in the vein of a classic Darkness tune but moulded in their image to question what that can be. However, the rallying cry of closing track, “We Are the Guitar Men” is the song you’re looking for. It’s the album’s happy ending, discussing the healing power of rock and roll for listeners, what instruments mean to musicians and declaring those words we all want to hear “Long live rock and roll!” So that whole “Rock and Roll Deserves to Die” thing may have been a bit premature. Wait, I said I wasn’t going to spoil the ending, didn’t I?
Easter is Cancelled dabbles into new territory for The Darkness but very much keeps it within their camp. They know what they are and they’re not going to change. They don’t need your acceptance of that. They’ve managed to show a level of restraint so it’s not quite the jumbled mess this easily could have been. On the surface, this doesn’t even come across as a concept album, and that’s not a bad thing; you have to dig beneath the layers. We needed this band in 2003 when they first exploded into the world, now they’re showing how they’ve remained vital, sixteen years later. Long live rock and roll and long live The Darkness.
Easter is Cancelled is out now