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The Darkness: Permission To Land

Album: Permission To Land
Label: Atlantic

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The limited but cultishly appreciated return of old-school, balls-to-the-wall hard rock has summoned everything from the messianic dance-metal of Andrew W.K. to the more conventional (yet still gleeful) stomp of Supagroup. The extent to which a hint of parody enters the picture varies from purveyor to purveyor: W.K. is dead-serious but self-aware, while Electric Six takes its winking, thrillingly bizarre disco-rock swagger to the level of crowd-pleasing performance art. Then there's The Darkness, an unflinchingly retro English outfit that samples generously from the likes of Queen, AC/DC, and a hundred preening hair-metal bands. On Permission To Land, the reaction The Darkness provokes is tough to pin down: Rarely does a smile so readily morph into a cringe, and vice versa. "Get Your Hands Off My Woman," "I Believe In A Thing Called Love," and "Love On The Rocks With No Ice" firmly entrench themselves in the memory banks, in large part because their massive hooks accompany a battery of flashily androgynous falsetto squeals and showy guitar solos. It's an amusingly ridiculous racket, and it goes down a lot easier because The Darkness is savvy enough to balance it with hefty doses of AC/DC stomp ("Black Shuck") and, on "Friday Night," a sweet trace of dorky high-school nostalgia. The latter song even finds singer Justin Hawkins discarding his usual wails for a more restrained performance that recalls The Cure's Robert Smith, albeit in a charmingly cheerful mood. It's that subtle streak of accomplished mischief that separates The Darkness from the multitude of marginal bar bands that still play this stuff for real.