Since first tossing its cartoonish, good-time cock-rock to the masses in the early ’00s, The Darkness has always fallen back on this defense: The band is a joke, but hey, it’s a good joke. With Hot Cakes—the group’s third album, and first since reforming last year—the laughter has died. In its place is the sad wheeze of the last surviving party balloon slowly, listlessly deflating.
“Baby, I was a loser / Several years on the dole / An Englishman with a very high voice / Doing rock ’n’ roll,” sings falsetto-happy frontman Justin Hawkins at the start of “Every Inch Of You,” Hot Cakes’ opener. Self-mythology has always been part of The Darkness’ shtick, but here Hawkins and crew forget to back it up with music catchy enough to transcend the solipsism. Granted, maturity is the last thing The Darkness should attempt, and to its credit, Hot Cakes maintains the band’s innuendo-laden oral fixation and toddler-level worldview; the single “Everybody Have A Good Time” preaches egolessness, but only as a way to achieve hedonistic kicks. The problem is that there is a stink of maturity lurking underneath songs like “Everybody” and the dour ballad “Forbidden Love.” Or at least it’s The Darkness’ idea of maturity, which equates to lower highs, pasteurized excess, and an overall miasma of blandness.
When the album succeeds, such as on the swaggering, Queen-esque “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us,” it does so on The Darkness’ own terms—that is, as a random ’80s-cliché generator. But with so many tired, lazy callbacks to its own threadbare catalog (including “Love Is Not The Answer,” a watery echo of the epic “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” from 2003’s Permission To Land), Hot Cakes marks the point where The Darkness has stopped cannibalizing the golden age of stadium rock and simply started cannibalizing itself. And, despite Hawkins’ inveterate crotch-grabbing, there was never that much meat there to begin with.