Music » Music Stories

The Gods Must Be Crazy

The Darkness: Rock deities or Stonehenge dwarves?


There was an age, many moons ago, when legends strode across the earth, when men were men, women were women, and all of them sang with shrieking banshee voices. For some this was the gilded age of catsuits and teased hair, semi-literate quasi-mysticism, extraneous umlauts and cucumber-stuffed pants. In this time a new cosmology was born, and a pantheon filled with names like Page, Mercury, Daltrey, Plant, Townsend, Lynott and May. These musicians ascended to claim their place in Valhalla, feasting in a bacchanal of musical excess. The average mortal trembled in the wake of these new golden gods now known as the Rock Stars, males shuddering in shame and females quivering in wanton delight. It seemed as though their newfound power knew no limits, that the heavens themselves would be heaved open for them.

This power, though, was ill-spent and eventually diluted. The hordes of treasure and the ambrosia all served to inflate egos to well beyond the point of hubris, and the music suffered. Records were no longer joyous expressions but had become deadly serious concept pieces about whatever errant thought struck while reading books on Crowley. What were once concise, effective live shows evolved (or, depending on point of view, devolved) into people deemed legally sane by the courts deciding it was a good idea to stage tributes to King Arthur featuring elaborately hokey stage props, extended keyboard workouts and ice ballet. Let's pause and let that one soak in for a second. King Arthur. Cardboard and papier-mâché castles. Fourteen-minute keyboard solos. People dancing on ice skates.

The threads of tragedy are already woven into our tale, but now they become more apparent. Time passed, and the new gods became old hat, victims of their own disastrous pretensions. Just as Cronus was deposed by his own children, so too were Rock Stars put out to pasture by a new rebellion, a blast known as punk. Safety-pinned screeds took the youth by storm, with nihilism becoming the new religion. "Stairway to Heaven" was replaced by "No Future," and a cycle was formed that still exists today, with one musical movement swallowing another repeatedly, like the Sun swallowing the Moon every morning. For most of the original stars, a Ragnarok of rock & roll had come, ending their time in the spotlight and consigning them to dwell on the fringes known as "classic rock."

Music has gone in many different directions over the years, the self-loathing anti-stardom of grunge fading into the inarticulate suburban rage of nu-metal, which was in turn swallowed by the exquisite whine and roses of the open-journal confessional known as emo. With all the trouble and unrest in the world, though, many music fans are sick and tired of hearing about how sick and tired musicians are, and songs about how lovers left and how Mommy never hugged enough have become stale. The followers of the old religion, gathered in groups of two or three in their Trans Am temples, lament the lack of the true Rock Star in music -- someone who just goes for it and leaves out the irony and arty posing. For these believers, a new day is dawning, and out of the darkness comes, um, the Darkness.

The members of the Darkness know how to behave like proper Rock Stars. A four-piece rock band from rural England, its sartorial and music choices are beyond the pale in silliness and joyfulness. Its live show is designed in an effective way to get people to let go and just enjoy themselves, all hearkening back to those lost seasons of classic rock. Because of the Darkness' unwavering allegiance to the gods of yesteryear, as if all the epochs of development in between never happened, the band is winning fans rapidly. Conversely, this same allegiance puts off some people just as rapidly. To some, the Darkness is the greatest band playing rock today, but to others, they're irrelevant at best and a mockery at worst.

"We make life hard for ourselves," says Frankie Poullain, bassist for the Darkness. "If we dressed plain and played by the rules...there's just so many rules, especially in modern rock music. You're not supposed to have a screaming high voice if you're a male rock singer, and you're not supposed to wear catsuits," he continues, referring to lead singer Justin Hawkins' impressive vocal range and penchant for donning open-chested spandex attire.

"You're not supposed to wear a bandana and a moustache," Poullain adds. "We're breaking rules. Some people are going to like you for it and admire your spirit and sense of purpose, and others are going to disapprove. One of the greatest things about rock & roll music when it first came out was that it broke all the rules. It's been a while since anyone's done that."

The Darkness' ascent across the world has been a work in progress. People just don't know what to make of the band since it sounds so different than everything else in music today. The debut record, Permission to Land, has gone platinum four times in the United Kingdom and is selling briskly in the States. Since the Darkness wants the world as well, the band is touring globally to try and get the message across.

"It comes in fits and starts, because we're misunderstood," Poullain asserts. "Sometimes it takes a couple of singles for people to get what we're doing. We're globally misunderstood, [but] maybe we enjoy it, because we're quite contrary. We've got a playful contrary side and we refuse to be pigeonholed."

There are still skeptics, though -- people who don't want to accept the power of the Darkness' rock or who think it's all a big ironic joke. "Those people are probably pretty insecure," Poullain suggests. "Irony is just when people are afraid of what others will think if they admit that they like dumb heavy rock. It's usually those who think they're sophisticated, the ones who sit around in black turtlenecks and talk about Godard films who think they're too clever to like us. We're secure enough to not be afraid to have that dumb side of us, because we know we're not. See us live, and you can see the conviction of what we do, totally engaged and kicking ass like a proper rock band. That's where the songs make sense."

Is the Darkness another coming of the golden gods of the past? Many would say yes, including some of those same former deities themselves. Steven Tyler, Brian May and a host of others have come out to shows to pay their respects and give their blessing to the band. Others would say that they're just a passing fad. Will they be woven into the fabric of the legends of rock, or will they fade away like castoffs cut by the scissors of the Fates? Only time will tell where this tale will end, but one thing is sure -- it'll be entertaining to watch.

Well, at least until the Darkness breaks out a copy of Camelot and some ice skates.

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