Today, we celebrate another anniversary, as twenty years ago, Suffolk based spandex enthusiasts THE DARKNESS unleashed their debut album; “Permission To Land”. Permission was granted too, as they spent four weeks holding onto the coveted UK No.1 Album spot in the official charts, selling over a million copies, fending off the likes of IRON MAIDEN and DAVID BOWIE. It won them Brit Awards and made them rock ‘n’ rolls newest stars. Now, in 2023, let’s look back and shine another light on The Darkness, as we check out their new four-disk anniversary set and grant them “Permission To Land...Again”.
Disk one kicks off with the original album plus a couple of demos, and we’re greeted with a little folklore a la “Black Shuck”. An East Anglian death omen, a devil dog of sorts, it supposedly terrorised church folk, but here it’s all very tongue-in-cheek. We’re treated to some ascending riff and drum work, very bluesy and gritty, before we’re met with front-man Justin Hawkins, and his unique and impressively high vocal range. He jovially sings of how this demon dog don’t give a fuck, as they swagger through a high energy hard rock number, with wailing guitars and a simplistic AC/DC-esque intensity. It’s a fun opener and caught many by surprise.
Next up we have our first solid album highlight, by the brief bombardment of lead single “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”. The rolling intro of gradually built bass and cymbals, leading into a flurry of intense glam rock, with some insanely high-pitched vocal screeches. It’s got light punk rock qualities in its attitude and fuzzy production, coupled with the frenetic solo, but it’s an undeniably entertaining piece of rock. This certainly caught people's attention in the February of 2003.
To say the album was top heavy, would be a fair assessment, as the following three tracks were also singles, and they certainly wanted to make an impression. “Growing On Me” is a twisted tale of relationship uncertainty; jumbled emotions and confusion, treating love almost like a fungus. Who’s really growing on who? Justin here is incredibly juxtaposed in what he wants, or feels, but there is definitely something there. Dan Hawkins is once again allowed to let rip on a guitar solo and this is just a band in full swing.
Speaking of full swing, we have the bands piece de resistance... “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”. A 21st century anthem, it’s undeniably their biggest song, and the track that put them on the map. From the music video battling space aliens, to the catchy, sing-along harmonies where EVERYONE tried to reach those high notes and failed miserably. It’s got clap-along qualities and riffs not seen since the likes of QUEEN and it’s just splendid. Arguably overplayed at rock clubs and alternative DJ nights, but it’s still a fantastic, light-hearted rock number.
The albums strongest track though, debatably, is “Love Is Only A Feeling”. The gentle nature of this sweet, emotive rock ballad is simply stunning. The guitars and overall tone ooze a mature sense of longing and heartache, and the Spanish guitars, with subtle keys merely add a level of romanticism. And that solo too! This is played with passion and a sense of honesty rarely found in rock bands. This is from the heart and it’s wonderful.
The remaining half of the album is fine, but as previously stated it has been front-loaded. “Friday Night” has some jovial lyrics about ping-pong, badminton and gymnastics, it’s a quirky song about being nerds at school, but meeting at a dance hall and reconnecting. It’s sweet in its delivery but emphasises naïve, youthful romance. It’s like, “Friday I’m Love” by THE CURE in a catsuit and far less Goth. “Holding My Own” closes the album with another ballad, and as touching as it is, can’t compete with our previous efforts.
The demos consist of unreleased tracks like “Out Of My Hands” and “Nothings Gonna Stop Us”, which are fine ballads and energetic numbers respectively, while “Black Shuck” gets the Vincent Price homage with a creepy intro a la “Thriller”. “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” has the elements in place but it’s slower, with more synth underlay, and is a far cry from the finished song. A couple of tracks to check out but, the band picked all of the right singles to be fair. With the added production quality of course. I believe in a thing called studio engineering.
The remaining two disks consist of live recordings, from when The Darkness performed at The Astoria, Knebworth and Wembley between 2003 and 2004, when both the album and the bands popularity was at its hottest. Again, nice to have as part of a collection for the bigger fans but if you aren’t that bothered about live albums it probably won’t make a difference to you here. All in all, while we’re currently in a scene where, this self-proclaimed new wave of classic rock is flooding festivals up and down the country, twenty years ago, The Darkness and this stunning debut, were a real breath of fresh air. The comedic aspects and Justin Hawkin’s vocals aren’t to everyone’s tastes, and the band have failed to match the heights of this album in the years since, but “Permission To Land” is simply a brilliantly fun rock ‘n’ roll album, and it deserves recognition. Give it another chance, maybe this time it’ll grow on you. Just keep your hands off my woman, motherfucker...