When The Darkness first sprang from oblivion in 2003, it was difficult to know how seriously to take them. Queen and '80s hair-metal were out of fashion even as subjects of ironic appreciation, and yet here was a band embracing their most excessive qualities, then exceeding them. Songs like "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" and "I Believe In A Thing Called Love," however, rocked hard enough to cut through reservations, doubt, and however many levels of winking appreciation were involved in their production, distribution, and reception.
But can The Darkness make a career of it? Is there a way to avoid becoming a footnote, their generation's Gary Glitter? (Leaving out all that child porn, of course.) The band's sophomore effort, One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back doesn't quite answer the question. The title track opens the album with what's either one of the most head-banging anti-drug songs ever, or the most unconvincing drug celebration on record. Justin Hawkins' performance practically demands fist-pumping as he sings about ruining his septum and "talking absolute rubbish." It's a gloriously mixed message, and the album's best, most confusing moment.
Ticket could use a few more moments like it. In the past, it was hard to tell how seriously to take The Darkness. Here, The Darkness doesn't seem to know how seriously to take itself. Singing about the horrors of baldness against Sabbath-ready sludge is surely a joke, and not a good one. And the album bogs down with too many go-nowhere tracks. But there's still something absurdly appealing about a band that can build a song around bagpipe-aping guitars ("Hazel Eyes") and pay homage to disco-era Kiss ("Girlfriend"). As long as they can create songs that dance on the razor's edge between clever and stupid, there will always be a place for The Darkness.