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Taken from The Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 03, 2019)

Art of Darkness

by Michael Dwyer

The Darkness. Credit: Courtesy
The Darkness have a new album and no plans to stop acting out their dreams any time soon. Credit: Courtesy

The pert, mincing and bollock-naked buttocks are Justin Hawkins' own. "I do all my own stunts, I assure you," he says, a little indignant at the suggestion that an arse-double might have been used in the long, lingering end shot of the Rock and Roll Deserves to Die video.

"I spend more time on my buttock-ular regimen than my face, what can I tell you? We actually shared a stylist with Kylie Minogue at one time. So maybe that's where the emphasis on bum-care emerged from."

It's not the kind of opening exchange you'd initiate with most rock stars in the multimillion-selling international league, but a healthy sense of absurdity is key to the glorious hard rock phenomenon that is the Darkness.

Easter Is Cancelled is the sixth LP from the band Hawkins formed with his brother Dan and bassist Frankie Poullain 20 years ago. With Rufus (son of Queen's Roger) Taylor on drums, guitars squealing and falsetto soaring, it prances the fine line between utterly ludicrous and seriously brilliant that defines the best of its genre.

"We've always been AC/DC plus Queen with a dash of Aerosmith and possibly a little bit of Led Zeppelin on a good day," the frontman says. "The critical thing is you have to have more than one influence. You have to combine."

It's from this rock-solid position of self-awareness that the single Rock and Roll Deserves to Die takes flight. "All of us have built a house of cards/ In the eye of a storm," Hawkins sings. "Charlatans all tattoos and no scars/ Nothing real to perform."

"We came up with that song title when we were watching one of the new bands we were supposed to be excited about on YouTube," he says. "We got halfway through and my brother said, 'Well, rock'n'roll deserves to die'. I thought that was quite inspiring. And depressing at the same time.

"Every time you see music that is challenging or breaking new ground, it's never in the genre of rock'n'roll. It's either in rap or jazz or... you know what I mean? Rock'n'roll has been retro for ages. Anytime everyone gets excited, it's essentially over a rehash of something that happened 30 or 40 years ago."

If we had an album now that sold one million I'd gladly give you both of my testicles.

Justin Hawkins

And rarely, it must be said, is the content anywhere near as engaging as Hawkins' lyrics. The author of One Way Ticket To Hell (and Back) and Japanese Prisoner of Love is a master of outrageous image and rhyme, from epic sagas of "remorseless Norsemen" to the sweet-talking likes of "You're nothing like the girls I usually get/ Everyone assumes I bought you off the internet."

After the last album, it was hard to imagine him bettering "After the show/ I think we both know/ This fist ain't gonna bump itself." On this one he rhymes "I wish the course of love ran smoother" with "I hope my heart was a tasty hors d'oeuvre", then circles back with "You don't wanna hug/ You need the Heimlich manoeuvre."

"The two things I really enjoyed at school were history and English literature," he says. "I always enjoyed language and when you're telling a story, the lexicon that's available to you is just really thrilling. And then you can find ways to mispronounce things..."

Nothing gets his goat more, he says, than when he hears the word "baby" ostensibly rhymed with "crazy". To any songwriter who does that, "you're just phoning it in," he says. "You're being lazy, which does rhyme with crazy but it does not rhyme with baby, so stop doing it. It makes my skin crawl."

Either in words or elegantly pilfered musical stylings, sheer cleverness has earned the Darkness their share of detractors among beard-stroking rock fans. But in a genre where most fans' benchmark for keeping-it-real is AC/DC, Hawkins has a bemused comeback.

"Sorry, there's a man in a school uniform up there. Have you seen them live?

"I think parody is quite a useful tool," he says, "but I reject the idea that that's all that we do. We make emotional songs from the heart. The way that we present them and some of the language used, that sets off alarm bells in some people's heads, which I totally understand. But you have to recognise that that is prevalent in all the best rock.

"Bon Scott is a great example. I mean, that guy was f---ing hilarious. You can't tell me that he's serious about the stuff that he's singing, but I think he was one of the greatest rock lyricists that ever walked the Earth."

The strangest irony about the Darkness is that for all their insight into the lunacy of rock stardom, they still managed to fall foul of its most lamentable cliches. Their debut, Permission To Land, made them millionaires. But while Hawkins strenuously refutes the second-album-slump accusation, his subsequent drug rehab, estrangement and failed solo experiments are on the record.

"We made a huge second album," he says. "It was challenging, ambitious, it charted, and it sold one million copies, which would be a f---ing great result for anybody, especially these days. If we had an album now that sold one million I'd gladly give you both of my testicles.

"Lifestyle-wise? Um... you don't know what I was like before," he says with a chuckle. "All I can say is it was always gonna happen. The money we made from the first album just made my lifestyle choices more... readily available, shall we say."

Today, all that matters is that Easter Is Cancelled is, ironically, a resurrection of rock-operatic proportions, conveniently aided by the controversy of cover art that shows Hawkins-as-Jesus making a crucifix-splintering escape while the blessed virgin Rufus and disciples Dan and Frankie hack into the Romans.

"What if, on the day of the crucifixion, in this [parallel] universe somewhere, Jesus decided to use his supernatural God-given gifts and buff physique to defeat the Romans instead of being crucified?" Hawkins asks. "That's not blasphemy. That's science fiction."

Easter is Cancelled is out now. The Darkness play at Metropolis in Fremantle on March 11; the Enmore Theatre in Sydney on March 13; The Forum in Melbourne on March 14; The Gov in Adelaide on March 15; and The Tivoli in Brisbane on March 18. Tickets are now on sale. For more information, go to smbpresents.com


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