THE DARKNESS (2000–6). Justin Hawkins (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dan Hawkins (guitar), Frankie Poullain (bass, replaced by Richie Edwards), Ed Graham (drums).
The Darkness were a hilarious modern English metal band with a wicked sense of humor that recalled the excesses of seventies heavy metal and especially the band Queen. They were sadly derailed after two records. The band was led by over-the-top vocalist Justin Hawkins, who could reach a high falsetto with ease, his brother Dan on guitar, and a stellar rhythm section of Frankie Poullain on bass (replaced after the first album by Richie Edwards) and Ed Graham on drums.
While the Darkness were not conceived as a band trying to emulate the style of Queen, it is interesting to note that the band’s formation was based on how well Justin Hawkins had done singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at karaoke on New Year’s Eve. The band’s first record, Permission to Land, was a surprising success in their native England. The band made in-roads in the United States with the single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” which was a surprising minor hit and allowed the band to play various festivals almost to the size they did in their native England. Other key tracks off the first record include the classic “Get Your Hands Off of My Woman” (unplayable on the radio for its “mother fucker” reference) and the comedy songs “Growing on Me” (which was about a venereal disease) and “Love on the Rocks With No Ice.”
After the success of the first album, internal tension led to the departure of original bassist Frankie Poullain, and his replacement by Richie Edwards in time for the second record, One Way Ticket to Hell … and Back. The album followed allegations in the British press of drug abuse by the Darkness, including lead singer Hawkins’ alleged propensity for cocaine (Hamilton 2006). This was mocked on the new album’s opening track, “One Way Ticket,” which opens up with pan pipes playing followed by the sound of someone snorting drugs and laughter.
The new record was also produced by classic metal producer Roy Thomas Baker, who had previously worked with Queen. The influence of Thomas was clear as the band added multi-tracked elaborate backing harmonies that echoed classic Queen so much that Brian May could have contemplated a plagiarism lawsuit. Despite the presence of several good tracks, including the dumb-joke “Knockers” and the Queen-esque “English Country Garden,” the band was running out of steam, and lead singer Hawkins ended up in rehab again. After his release, he disbanded the Darkness, announcing that he was not physically or mentally prepared for the temptation of touring again. Despite their relatively short life span, the Darkness were one of the more interesting of the revivalist bands of the new decade, and it seems as though they were cut short too soon—before they could forge their own identity outside of the joke songs and references to classic metal.
After Justin Hawkins’ departure, Dan Hawkins decided to continue in a heavier direction and promoted bassist Richie Edwards to lead vocals, along with drummer Ed Graham. They recruited new bassist Toby MacFarlaine from the new band Stone Gods. Justin Hawkins has been planning a solo career for some time and has contributed backing vocals to bands such as Def Leppard and others since the dissolution of the Darkness.
Discography: Permission to Land (Atlantic, 2003); One Way Ticket to Hell … and Back (Atlantic, 2005).