If, like me, you’ve spent the NFL offseason buying Samsung stock, laughing off the Apple lawsuit, and fretting that an older, rehabilitated, and reunited Darkness might be a calmer, more mature, and far more boring Darkness … Well, the good news of the week is that only 30 seconds into “Hot Cakes,” Justin Hawkins shrieks, “Every man, woman and child wants to … SUCK MY COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCK!” with as much conviction as Woody Guthrie singing about our National Parks.
They say step one is admitting you have a problem. My problem regarding the Darkness is that I fucking love them, even though I know that I should hate them. Hearing better-disciplined rock snobs than myself put them down as a pastiche of a bastardization of Queen cover band cliches only makes me love them more, because one, of COURSE the Darkness are a ridiculous parody of a bad Spinal Tap joke Tenacious D might crack while watching a Behind the Music marathon stoned (Tight pants! Drugs! Feuding bandmate brothers! More drugs! A breakup! A comeback! Tight pants!), two, I happen to think the joke is hilarious, and three, the band is so clear-eyed AWARE of and in LOVE with their own recycled schlock, the music so hooked on the simple pleasures of its own Cheap Tricks that -- and I’m just paraphrasing here -- the put-upon “EVERYONE WANTS TO SUCK MY COCK!” vanity vanishes, and what you’re left with is the least pretentious rock music imaginable.
All delusions of cock-suckery aside, the Darkness are about as hardcore as a sock hop. Sure, they’ll throw in a line like “EVERYONE WANTS TO SUCK MY COCK!” or write an ode to genital warts or put mall art of women in bikinis slathered in syrup on the cover of their new album and call it “Hot Cakes,” but in the best Darkness songs, Hawkins barely rounds first base. Notice how every time “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” hits its rocket ship chorus, Hawkins pauses the song to stare at his lady love fixin’ her hair, a snapshot of young bliss so innocent we could be listening to the extracurricular over-achievers on “Permission to Land’s” “Friday Night” speeding away from school as fast as their hormones can pedal. That unexpected tenderness what a lot of people miss about the Darkness: deep down, the guy waving his cock in your face really does believe in a thing called love.
The rest of “Hot Cakes” has some fleeting fun moments, like giddy break-up songs “”With a Woman” and “She’s Just a Girl, Eddie,” but the batter is more generic than premium Darkness Bisquick. I’m going to get real sick of hearing “Everybody Have a Good Time” every time I’m waiting for Lovie Smith to lose another terrible challenge, no matter how hot the girl in the bikini pretending to like Budweiser turns out to be, and really, about half these songs deserve as much. Although probably not “Concrete,” which is also about Hawkins’ cock. I think. And definitely not "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" -- come on, I’m supposed to hate a band so unselfconscious that it had the batshit nuts idea to turn a Radiohead classic into a potential final boss for “Rock Band: Speed Metal Freak Edition Turbo Hyper Fighting” and then actually went ahead and did it? Seriously, fuck you!
Ugh, fine. “Hot Cakes” is just OK -- two great songs, a couple good songs, and a handful that could have filled out any ‘80s hair band album that wasn’t subtitled “Greatest Hits.” “One Way Ticket to Hell … And Back” is weirder, dirtier, and funnier, and “Permission to Land” … look, get the “Merriweather Post Pavilion” out of your ass and listen to that fucker again! A band makes an album that wacko awesome, I’m willing to forgive a way too tame mediocrity or five. The best moments on “Hot Cakes” show that seven years in Hackneyed Rock Star Purgatory haven’t wrung all the puerile power chords out of the Darkness. They need only follow their …
Well, you know.