As genres of music go, hard rock is pretty silly. From the dress code to the subject matter, via the pointy guitars and the frankly peculiar album artwork, it’s enough to make a rocket scientist scratch their head. Yet, its enormous fanbase takes it all so seriously. If only there were a band who realized how gloriously daft the whole endeavor is. What if they managed to have some fun with the codes and conventions of the genre that time forgot while at the same time writing and recording material that can sit at the top table of rock. Wait – who’s that at the door grinning from ear to ear and clutching a couple of Les Paul guitars and a bottle of Prosecco? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Darkness.
Motorheart is album number seven for the band, and stylistically, it’s not too far removed from the previous six. The tried-and-true formula of big choruses, larger riffs, and a healthy dollop of self-effacing humor works every time. Especially on this record. This is music made to be played in the largest arenas but still has the aroma of a stinky rock bar somewhere on the east coast (of England.) I doubt very much if the band have paid close attention to any records recorded later than Def Leppard’s Pyromania as every track on the record sticks pretty close to the classic rock formula. But the formula is used incredibly well here. Melody is king. Hooklines are everywhere. The lyrics are smart and funny. There is nothing you can’t love.
The album starts with “Welcome Tae Glasgae” – that’s “Welcome to Glasgow” for readers who don’t live within 200 miles of Scotland’s second city. In between cartoony Scottish accents, tourist information, and a brief guide to the city’s notable venues is the glorious line, “The women are gorgeous / and the food is OK.” I mean, can you imagine Iron Maiden dropping that into one of their ten-minute epics about the Crimean War? It’s also a great tune. It’s like Big Country on a lot of sugary drinks and is a lot of fun. “It’s Love, Jim” is an effortless rocker that gallops along in a very pleasing manner. I have no idea what the line “Her very touch inspired tectonics” means, but if that’s a bit too metaphysical for you, you can always giggle at the Star Trek references.
“Jussy’s Girl” is what the aforementioned Def Leppard would have sounded like if they had the heightened sense of irony that the Darkness have in spades. It’s a pop-metal gem. And the lyrics are priceless: “Every split end / Every curl / I really wish that you were Jussy’s Girl.” It’s a long way from the typically forced bravado that ruins a lot of perfectly good rock songs. “Sticky Situations” bolts some killer riffs to some vocal harmonies stolen from Queen II and comes up smiling. There’s a little bit of Dr. Brian May in the guitar stylings too, and that’s never a bad thing.
When the band go slightly left field, it’s still very entertaining. “Motorheart” is almost but not quite heavy metal but still has a glorious chorus and plenty of cute melodic hooks. It’s also about a robotic love doll. How very 2021. “Eastbound” has a whiff of BlackBerry Smoke about it, although what the heavily bearded titans of southern rock would have made of this tribute to the hot spots of the band’s hometown of Lowestoft is a matter of conjecture. They’d love the tune, though. The biggest swerve from the normal is “Speed of the Nite Time”, which has an early 1980s synthpop/new wave feel. There’s still enough crunchy guitar to keep the core demographic happy, so no need to panic.
No one needs reminding of how dark the general mood has been for the last two years, and the Darkness understand that. Now is not the time to dust off your copy of Closer or Pink Moon and have a wallow in existential angst. Now is very much the time to drink cheap cocktails and expensive beer, retrieve that feather boa and those leopardskin pants from the back of the wardrobe, and party like punk rock never happened. And if you’re looking for an appropriate soundtrack, you really should consider Motorheart. It’s like an art project you can headbang too.