Graded on a Curve:
The Darkness,
Permission to Land

Glam never dies. It predated David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and the New York Dolls, and its tradition has been carried on by the likes of Destroyer and, most importantly, Lady Gaga. But during the eighties Glam became associated with metal bands whose only claim to genre lay in the fact they wore make-up. The likes of Poison, Ratt, and Skid Row all have their attraction, but Glam they most definitely they ain’t.

England’s The Darkness are the real thing. They have musical similarities to eighties Glam metal, but they understand that Glam is an attitude, a pose, a way of looking at life. Fey, androgynous, witty, artificial, decidedly un-macho and essentially frivolous, glitter rockers adhere to that most famous of dandies Oscar Wilde’s famous credo, “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”

And on their 2003 debut Permission to Land The Darkness stand up for that greatest of human endeavors–going pink flamingo flamboyant and having an ostrich feather lark while doing it. The Darkness’s name may well be an inside joke, because there’s absolutely nothing dark about them.

The Darkness stand apart from the pack on the quality of their music alone, but what really makes them one of Glam’s shinier gifts to the glamkind is lead vocalist and guitarist Justin Hawkins’ voice, which is so campy and outrageous he makes Freddy Mercury sound like Hoyt Axton. I invite you to listen to the way he goes for the high notes, stutters and positively warbles his way through the band’s big one, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” Hawkins goes for baroque every time he opens his mouth.

There isn’t a single weak track on Permission to Land, and some of the band’s influences may surprise you. Opening track “Black Shuck” is AC/DC in five-inch stacked heels. On “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” The Darkness plays a primal riff while Hawkins does a bit of yodeling.”Growing on Me” is a mid-tempo number with an eighties glam metal feel and a chorus that could be by Warrant.

“Givin’ Up” is a Sticky Fingers-era Stones pastiche about heroin addiction. “Love Is Only a Feeling” is an old school power ballad complete with acoustic guitars and big chorus. “Holding My Own” is also a power ballad with Guns N’ Roses written all over it.

The primal riff in bonus track “Makin’ Out” brings (once again) AC/DC to mind. “Friday Night” is an instant Glam classic on which Hawkins reminisces about high school with its “Tuesday gymnastics,” “Ping pong Wednesday,” and “Dancing on a Friday night.” Glam has always tended to look backwards in terms of both music and subject matter, and that certainly applies to “Friday Night’‘s evocation of a simpler and more innocent time.

On the homage to doing the backseat boogie “Makin’ Out” Hawkins steams the windows: “Making out/It’s getting better and better” he sings, “Making out/The back seat’s gettin’ wetter.” “Love on the Rocks” has heavy metal crunch with Hawkins going over the top even by his own exacting standards.

On “Stuck in a Rut” Hawkins does some fast talking amidst madcap laughter. And LP highlight “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” is so perfect I can’t find the words to describe it–from hook to melody to Hawkins’ vocals, it’s pure dead brilliant, and as essential to your Glam rock mixtape as T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” or Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”

Glam suffered an irreparable loss when The Darkness fractured after releasing their sophomore LP, 2005’s One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back. (They reunited in 2011.) But for one bright and shining moment we were afforded the opportunity to bask in the Glory of Glam, and all was fabulous with the world.

The songs were great, the playing sublime, and Justin Hawkins’ vocals a fitting tribute to tripping the glitter fantastic. One needn’t worry, though–there will always be brilliant new Glam bands whose music attests to the fact that we’re all living a moonage daydream, and waking up with stardust in our eyes.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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