Polarizing over-the-top classic rock-influenced U.K. act returns for another round.
Dan Hawkins, guitarist for U.K. band the Darkness, is blunt about his group's career.
"Half the people absolutely cannot bear us and think we're a joke, and the other half absolutely love us and think that we're the saviors of rock'n'roll," he says.
"But really, quite honestly, we couldn't give a s*** either way, you know? As long as our fans are happy and we make good records that our fans really enjoy, the rest of it doesn't really matter."
Anyone who ate up the over-the-top classic rock style of the band's debut, "Permission to Land" (Must Destroy/Atlantic), will love "One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back." Hawkins, his younger brother Justin (vocals/guitars), Ed Graham (drums) and Richie Edwards (bass) present more guitar solos, falsetto singing and arena-ready choruses on the sophomore album, due Nov. 28 internationally and Nov. 29 in the United States through a multi-album deal with Atlantic.
A generous recording budget allowed the Darkness room to experiment, and orchestration, panpipes and bagpipes flesh out what Justin calls "a massive, massive rock album."
The band's party-time sound is intact (listen to "Knockers" or "Is It Just Me?") but some lyrics focus on not-so-upbeat topics like hair loss ("Bald") and drug-induced heart attacks (the title cut).
The subject matter reflects Justin's perspective, which is that of the average Joe. "I think people can't relate to singing about being in the back of a bus and being jaded and things like that. What made us popular in the first place is we have normal problems," he says with a laugh.
The Darkness is strongly influenced by Queen. Detractors who think the quartet is imitating the legendary group will surely howl about the band's choice of producer: Roy Thomas Baker, who helmed such Queen masterpieces as "Bohemian Rhapsody." The band picked Baker after he and Dan met and hit it off at a Los Angeles party, not because it wanted to ride someone's musical coattails.
"We're confident, and our souls are clean," Dan says. "We're not retroactivists, and we don't steal from people. We're heavily influenced, as any other band is, by our peers. It's just great to work with someone like Roy, and he's got the experience to just do anything."
The band will not try to win over its critics, either. Justin says, "We could try and do something serious, and then we'd end up serious and holier than thou and more ambiguous and less in your face... If we did that, people would go, 'Ah, look at that, they sold out. They've never stood by their principles.' So we just do what we do."
Countering the critics are the 683,000 U.S. fans who bought "Permission to Land," according to Nielsen SoundScan. (The album has sold 3 million-plus copies globally since its July 2003 release, according to Warner Music International.)
The single "One Way Ticket" has attracted A-list rotation on BBC Radio 1, Britain's leading top 40 national station, and alternative XFM, and is in rotation at Virgin, Capitol and Radio 2, among others in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., it has gained airplay, but has not yet charted.
That the Darkness is Britain's pre-eminent new rock act was confirmed when it won three Brit Awards last year. Album shipments have reached six-times platinum (1.5 million-plus copies) at home, according to Atlantic U.K.
Despite the strong sales, sections of Britain's notoriously trend-conscious music press still consider the band a tongue-in-cheek novelty act and downplay prospects for repeat success.
At home, the band has had a particularly difficult relationship with weekly music magazine NME, which gave the Darkness poor reviews early in its career. The band was nominated in four categories at the 2004 NME Awards but failed to win any of them.
Atlantic U.K. managing director Max Lousada is confident the Darkness will again triumph.
"When we first signed them, people didn't think they would sell an album," he says. "They went and sold 1.5 million in the United Kingdom... People said the band wouldn't be able to sell tickets, and they went on to multiple arenas and headline [Britain's annual] Reading Festival. People say they aren't going to be able to do a follow-up record. They've always been second-guessed, but the band have always out-proven the detractors."
The Darkness will perform a handful of U.K. shows prior to Christmas and will embark on an extensive run of Europe, North America and Asia in the first and second quarters of 2006, beginning Feb. 4 at 8,500-capacity venue the Point in Dublin.
Additional reporting by Lars Brandle.