The Darkness' New Album Is a Rock Jukebox Musical

Photo: Simon Emmett / Press Handout

Easter Is Cancelled is the Darkness' best album since their 2003 breakthrough Permission to Land.

Easter Is Cancelled
The Darkness

Cooking Vinyl

4 October 2019

The Darkness have become classic rock's dinner theatre act. When the Suffolk-based Darkness broke globally in 2003 with the stellar Permission to Land, propelled by the infectious lead single "I Believe in a Thing Called Love", it was hard to know exactly what could come next. That record is such a singular work, a dead-on evocation of classic rock's cocaine-fueled 1970s heydays, that it seemed that the Darkness was put on this planet to record that one LP.

Over the course of Permission to Land's ten tracks, the group mines nearly every trope of classic rock, so much so that they left little to explore on the records which followed that album. Those releases – 2007's One Way Ticket to Hell (and Back), 2012's Hot Cakes, 2015's Last of Our Kind, and 2017's Pinewood Smile – proved to be cases of diminishing returns, with the schtick of Permission to Land stretched well past its flexibility after One Way Ticket. There's only so much mileage to get out of the concept: "What if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was sentient, and made albums?"

Easter Is Cancelled, the band's sixth studio LP, therefore promises a lot. For a group that's well past its heyday to record a big concept album, especially one whose concept is "What if Jesus hadn't died on the cross, and had instead fought the Romans?" is to aim high with minimal expectations. Absurdities compound: Jesus is a buff bodybuilder on the album art, frontman Justin Hawkins at one point rhymes "hors d'oeuvres" with "Heimlich maneuver", and the interlude "Deck Chair" sounds like Andrew Lloyd Weber miming Opeth. It would all be too ridiculous if the name "The Darkness" wasn't emblazoned in golden letters, likened to the light of God, on the cover of the record. In keeping with the spirit of excess, Hawkins proclaimed Easter Is Cancelled to be "the grandest statement any band has ever made". He added, "The result is a literally Biblical record, and those who have said that rock and roll is the Devil's music should listen and understand that it is, in truth, the voice of God." Okay then.

The phrase "concept album" doesn't not work when describing Easter Is Cancelled, but it's also not necessary to understand what's going on. Unlike the great concept albums in rock history, the Darkness don't do much to signpost any sort of plot. Nor do they lay out the tracks in such a way that one can follow what's going on. Easter Is Cancelled makes more sense as a yet-to-be-mounted rock 'n' roll version of Medieval Times, or as an original cast recording of a jukebox musical about the redeeming power of rock music. In the end, even if one scraps any organizing frameworks like these and just takes this music as a set of goofy rock tributes, the Darkness do something surprising: they put together their best collection of original music since Permission to Land.

Many of these tunes hold water with the strongest cuts on that debut. "How Can I Lose Your Love?", with its superb chorus and chugging power chords, sounds like a tune that's been around since Aerosmith put out Toys in the Attic. Palm-muted guitars on the verses of "Live 'Til I Die" set the stage perfectly for Hawkins' falsetto in the chorus, which still sounds as stellar as it did back in 2003. "Heavy Metal Lover", the kind of tune that's bound to be a smashing closeout number at future concerts, pays tribute to its titular genre with an infectious chorus. "Heavy metal lover / I just wanna be with you."

In these and other cases on Easter Is Cancelled, the songwriting feels tight and focused. Unlike records such as Hot Cakes, this LP emphasizes craftsmanship over showmanship. Hot Cakes begins with Hawkins shouting "Suck my cock!"; the first cut of Easter Is Cancelled builds tension with a folk-metal mandolin introduction, after which Hawkins' vocals soar over gentle mellotron chords. Showmanship is never in short supply, but the band's focus was clearly in the songs themselves first and foremost.

Easter Is Cancelled isn't a total home run. The bluesy riff of the title tune is the kind of thing that both the Darkness and classic rock bands everywhere have beaten to death. If you've ever watched a TV sitcom featuring a montage of a character walking pensively down a beach, you've heard "In Another Life". I'm still not exactly sure what "Deck Chair" is, except for maybe a chance for Hawkins to sing in French. "La vie / La temps / La mort," he muses, only to go on in the next track and declare Easter canceled. But, then again, it's the Darkness. Even at their best, they were all over the place. Even the fantastic Permission to Land has a song which features the following lyric: "Black shuck / Black shuck / Black schuck / That dog doesn't give a fuck!"

Messiness has always been a part of the Darkness' music. The Darkness make their most compelling music when it's neither too corny nor too self-serious. Think Jack White without all the pretensions and fetishizations of retro instruments. Easter Is Cancelled may not be high art, but it doesn't need to be. It is that rare delight: a return to form following a lengthy period of artistic stagnation.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.