Like clockwork, as they have since 2015’s Last of Our Kind, The Darkness are back two years on from their last album with their latest. In 2017, I declared Pinewood Smile as the best album from The Darkness since their debut crash-landed from nowhere. An opinion I reiterated when reviewing Easter is Cancelled. Well, Pinewood Smile can now fuck off. Motorheart is now the best Darkness album since Permission to Land. Fuck it, why bother teasing it and declaring it at the end? It just is.
Motorheart doesn’t mess with the tried and tested formula of the Hawkins brothers, Frankie Poullain and Rufus Tiger Taylor we’ve known for so long. If you’re already a fan – great! Nine new tracks for you to inject into your ear drums, air guitar along with (including all the characteristic drawn out notes), try and match Justin’s high notes and even boogie on one number. If you weren’t a fan before – this won’t change your mind. So just leave now – we don’t need your kind.
“Welcome Tae Glasgae” kicks off the album as a love letter to Scotland’s true capital. In fact, such a song hasn’t come close since Dundonian Will Fyffe’s “I Belong to Glasgow” (see? It’s not just the English who recognise its splendour). You’d think the band actually came from Glasgow with the reverence paid to the city. Until you see they’ve spelled Glasgow in the Edinburgh fashion (Justin, if you’re reading this, it’s actually “Glesga”) – give the East its due, it’s about the only thing they can hold over us. Never in my life did I think I’d hear the M74 mentioned in a song but this is also the band who managed to include “Artist and Repertoire” in a song and make it rhyme. Elsewhere, the iconic Barrowlands gets a namecheck as does toilets like the O2 Academy (the ABC’s bigger and less interesting brother) and King Tut’s, our food is “ok” but our women more than make up for it, apparently. Musically, it’s prime cut Darkness, lovingly tongue-in-cheek and them firing on all cylinders sounding like only they do. And if you hadn’t guessed by now, yes, I’m fiercely proud of being able to call Glasgow my hometown.
Whilst there’s plenty of numbers which have the quartet plying their usual wares to a criminally high standard, the opening track is followed up by a wonderfully abrupt turn into “It’s Love, Jim”. Now, I’m convinced they broke out the Ouija board and asked Rick Parfitt for a hand on this one. Before Justin Hawkins’ vocals kick in, there’s some solid rhythm guitar work on this which only he could do. As they usually draw from the more obvious 70s hard rock influences, it’s great to hear Status Quo get a loving homage and you can picture Parfitt, legs apart and going hell for leather on that white Telecaster on this number as a guest spot.
Speaking of boogie, “Jussy’s Girl” hits the ballad mark firmly on the head for the album. It’s not quite “Love is Only a Feeling” (few songs are), but the groove anchoring the song will have the crowds dancing and singing along to this one and is nicely followed up by the slushier “Sticky Situations”. Think Aerosmith’s big ballads and you’re almost there – just through the filter of Lowestoft, Suffolk, rather than Boston, Massachusetts.
Elsewhere, title track “Motorheart” is as vicious as its name implies. It’s not The Darkness going all metal on our arses but it does present them in a very gritty and aggressive manner, channelling it perfectly. As Justin Hawkins hits those impossible vocal notes, it’s the millionth time I’ve questioned if he records his vocals with certain body parts in a vice (his toenails, obviously). “Nobody Can See Me Cry” revisits the idea of crying from “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” (we do but in private) with its furious riff and drumming against the humorous lyrics and love for the art of music, it’s quite possibly the most representative Darkness track to date.
As closing track “Speed of the Nite Time” has the band dabble with a bit of extravagance in its 80s synth pop feel and summery vibe, the juxtaposition of a slightly darker and moodier guitar tone has The Darkness once again paying homage without becoming pastiche. Which is helpful since that’s basically what they’ve always been about. There’s still plenty of bombast as found on the preceding eight tracks as it races to its finish line as it runs there with, well, the speed of nite time.
The Darkness have long established themselves as not only a viable live act in recent years but proving they can still turn out an excellent album every two years. This one feels like they purposefully set out to best Permission to Land and they come within spitting distance of doing so. There’s the same lightning in a bottle as found on that debut. The four of them are tighter than they’ve ever been, all of them playing their instruments of choice harder and better than ever. Motorheart is The Darkness turned up to the proverbial eleven – everything we’ve loved about them since they declared their feelings about love almost two decades ago (Christ, that makes me feel old) is here. It’s an album which shows the joy to be found in the simplicity of denim-and-leather rock and roll and before that first song finishes, it’ll paint a smile on your face which will stay until the final note of the album rings out.
Header image by Simon Emmett
Motorheart is released on 19th November