One Way Ticket to Hell and Back
The Darkness's debut, the exuberant Permission to Land, was polarity in motion. Justin and Dan Hawkins and crew tramped through the forgotten back 40 of the Top 40 with an esoteric wit more suited to 10cc deep cuts (or perhaps Queen in a "mucking around the estate" mood) combined with completely straight-faced arena-rock hooks. Yet for every person who called in to a radio contest imitating the coy squeals on "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," there was another listener who longed to break the disc over his head and shove the shards down his cake-hole. Still, having a worldwide hit found the group enough supporters so that the Hawkinses' dreams of becoming the snarky successors to Van Halen were plausible instead of pathetic. But success nearly killed them with kindness: The group broke up at least once during the sessions for One Way Ticket to Hell and Back, and bassist Frankie Poullain split the scene.
True to the band's "love us, hate us, but don't forget us" aesthetic, the follow-up is both comforting and aggravating. The delicate tension of Land's loving hard-rock piss-takes remains, but just barely. Roy Thomas Baker's production ladles choruses of trilling Justins, aristocratic guitar breaks, and quivering string sections over the songs to sometimes disturbing effect. This disc's pillaging of the great collective dollar-bin group-mind also has plenty I would have tossed in the dumpster--the gloopy faux-Hibernianisms of "Hazel Eyes," the brittle Sparks-knockoff "English Country Garden," and the infernal "Girlfriend" with its horrific disco-rock-casino showpiece shenanigans and that dastardly chorus. (Note to Girlfriend: He loves you so much.)
Still, the record is near-single-handedly redeemed by a few decent cuts, such as the title track, a coke-addled cousin to Land's "Givin' Up," and the wry aging lovers' reunion on "Knockers." Best of all is "Bald," a loopy exposé of Hair Club Nation set to a tough, simmering riff that Ratt would have torn their locks out by the handful to pen. As any good arm-punching third-grade Lothario will tell you, the stuff you tease most is the stuff you love best.