It seems strange to praise The Darkness in the same short space of time as lashing Steel Panther’s latest, seeing as the two both fall on the same side of over-the-top, unfashionable ‘comedy’ rock, but they definitely deserve it more. For one, while the comedy element is still present in Justin Hawkins’ caterwauling vocals and pretty much all of their music videos, they don’t lean nearly as heavily into the parody and have had significantly more longevity as a result, and though diminishing returns across their catalogue is a factor, they’ve been nowhere near as severe as the nadirs that Steel Panther have constantly plumbed. It also helps that the clout from their debut Permission To Land being viewed as a British rock classic has yet to fully dissipate, and that’s kept them on fairly solid ground ever since; despite never matching up to it since (and honestly, never being expected to), the good will offered to The Darkness has yet to really go away.
It’s an immediate advantage to pinpoint with what feels like any release from The Darkness – regardless of how the whole thing turns out ultimately, there’s always going to be more within it than their obvious but necessary sonic touchstones who might inhabit the same cock-rock ecosystem, but engage less with both the music and the humour in favour of surface-level easiness. That advantage isn’t synonymous with guaranteed success though, a mantra that an album like Easter Is Cancelled feels dogged by for almost its entire runtime as The Darkness show glimpses of really hitting the nail on the head for this sort of hard rock, but largely feel stuck in their own doldrums. It’s indicative of a band who’ve struggled to move on with the times, and while there have been far worse examples than this, Easter Is Cancelled’s most damning indictment is simply how unnecessary it feels.
That mainly comes from how uncertain The Darkness come across when trying to balance being a ‘serious’ rock band with one with the room to play into their more comedic side, and the fact that they could really afford to go a lot further with the latter than they do only makes the lack of equilibrium all the more stark. When they want to, The Darkness can actually nab the comedy-rock Holy Grail and actually find ways to be funny, as they once again lean towards a drier, more British sense of wit that still throws around the jokes and absurdity, but knows that something has to be done with them for it to work. Deck Chair works because it’s framed as a solemn, mournful ballad with delicate and tasteful arrangements that’s literally about a chair blowing away, and Heavy Metal Lover gets its juxtapositions between overblown metal imagery and romantic gushing constantly right, and it elevates the track far beyond its foundations as the most basic love song possible. It’s just a shame these are the only moments on Easter Is Cancelled where The Darkness actually go the distance; they touch upon it often, but never in a way that makes these songs more than the sort of thematically skeletal hard rock songs that lose their luster in record time. There’s clearly supposed to be something tongue-in-cheek about Rock And Roll Deserves To Die and the title track but it barely materialises in any significant form, while the dodgy Mancunian accent that comes out of nowhere on Choke On It accomplishes nothing beyond being a mild annoyance in a song that’s already not great. As for more clear-cut songs like How Can I Lose Your Love and Live ‘Til I Die, they’re fine, but stripped of many of the distinct Darkness-isms that leaves them as pretty faceless.
That seems to generally be where Easter Is Cancelled falls the most, in that The Darkness seem to be noticeably restraining themselves in almost every way. What was once a band that could be relied on for squealing, larger-than-life hair-metal enormity feels significantly diminished here, and even though those moments are still present in the likes of the title track and Choke On It, they’re in the minority to the slower paces and worn-down tones that in no way accentuate The Darkness’ greatest strengths. They try to collate both the Celtic folk and hard rock sides of Led Zeppelin on Rock And Roll Deserves To Die and its sequel / companion piece We Are The Guitar Men, but it’s not like there’s much panache in doing so, and all it really does is serve as an establishing presence for the surprising amount of slow, meandering tempos and acoustic guitars that don’t do this album any justice. Tracks like Live ‘Til I Die and Heart Explodes are clearly positioned as enormous, sweeping anthems dressed in more earthy acoustic tones to exemplify that exact sense of grandeur, but most of the time they just fall flat with very little of the firebrand power that’s always been The Darkness’ best setting. It also means that Hawkins’ vocals are pressed down to their wobbly, more emotional register that seems to have less of an appeal than ever (especially on How Can I Lose Your Love in which he feels mixed much too far back in the mix), and for an album that’s already struggling to remain on any sort of consistently likable footing, it’s not a good approach to take.
But on the whole, it’s not like Easter Is Cancelled is going to move the needle one way or another for The Darkness, nor was it designed to. They’re playing to what their fans want at this point, and when the general mood here is more of the same, it’s difficult to begrudge them for it. But at the same time, Easter Is Cancelled loses a lot of the fun factor that at least gave The Darkness their initial foothold within the UK rock scene, and even if a few moments prevent it from disappearing altogether, this doesn’t feel like an album coming from a place of musical stability. It’s hardly offensively bad at least, which is a nice change of pace within the ever-disappointing world of ‘comedy’ rock, but it’s not really much of anything, and that’s where the biggest issue lies. This is an album that’ll most likely be forgotten before the year is out, such is the lack of real movement or memorability put on show here.
For fans of: Airbourne, Steel Panther, The Answer
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Easter Is Cancelled’ by The Darkness is released on 4th October on Cooking Vinyl Limited.