''The world needs the Darkness," declares Justin Hawkins, the group's mustachioed guitarist and falsetto-voiced singer, "whether it knows it or not."
As with most things concerning the Darkness - the ludicrously attired U.K. rock band that rose to fame with its 2003 debut, "Permission to Land" (Atlantic), before imploding in 2006 - it's hard to know if Hawkins is being serious or tongue-in-cheek.
Less open to interpretation is the Darkness' characteristically colorful return, which began in June 2011 with a series of U.K. warm-up shows ahead of the band's appearance at England's Download Festival. True to form, the well-received comeback show featured Hawkins unveiling his latest stage costume: a Gothic striped catsuit that the 37-year-old singer describes as a mix of Louis XVI and Beetlejuice. "I wanted it to look like I've been dug up after being dead for five years, which is essentially what's happened here," he says with a smile.
Formed in 2000 in the British coastal town of Lowestoft, the Darkness - which includes Hawkins' younger brother Dan on guitar, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham - sold more than 3 million copies worldwide of "Permission to Land," according to co-managers Rick Canny, executive VP at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Sanctuary Artist Management, and U.K.-based Ian Johnsen. Stateside, the album peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard 200, selling 728,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The Darkness' global success acerbated deteriorating relations among band members, however. In 2005, Poullain was kicked out of the group. That same year, sophomore album "One Way Ticket to Hell." And Back arrived, with U.K. sales stalling at 200,000, according to the Official Charts Co. In the States, it has sold 102,000.
"There are a lot of painful memories from that period, but at the same time, recording an album with [former Queen producer] Roy Thomas Baker was an unforgettable experience," Hawkins says. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he continues, adding with a laugh, "and a million pounds of Warner's money."
Such excess wasn't limited to the recording studio. In August 2006, Hawkins was admitted to London's Priory clinic for alcohol and drug abuse. He quit the Darkness soon after. "It was good to stop when we did," says Hawkins, now sober. "If we hadn't, it was obvious what was going to happen: I would have been found dead on a toilet."
Five years passed before the four members once again shared a stage. In the interim period, Hawkins embarked on several solo projects and wrote for other acts, including Meat Loaf, Adam Lambert, Def Leppard and Foxy Shazam. Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins, Graham and Poullain's replacement Richie Edwards regrouped as hard rock outfit Stone Gods. The decision to re-form what the elder Hawkins terms "the golden-era Darkness lineup" first surfaced early last year when all four members met up in a London restaurant.
Soon after, the band reconvened at a Lowestoft studio and tentatively began work on its third studio album, "Hot Cakes." Set to be released internationally Aug. 20 on PIAS and a day later stateside on Wind-up Records, the record, much like the band's debut, was recorded in a variety of U.K. studios between touring commitments, allowing the band to road-test material. The result is a triumphant feel-good rock album bursting with soaring guitar riffs; catchy, anthemic choruses; and an over-the-top cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit."
"If you take the first two albums, reduce them both to the best 11 songs, and then make it sound better, that's what you've got," Hawkins says of "Hot Cakes."
The singer's cameo appearance in a Samsung Super Bowl XLVII commercial, in which he performed the band's biggest U.S. hit, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" (647,000 sold, according to SoundScan), provided Wind-up with a strong platform to build on when reintroducing the band in the United States, label president/CEO Edward Vetri says. A U.S. tour bookended the ad spot, while the first stage of a viral campaign began May 30 with the online premiere of a lyric video for the "Hot Cakes" track "Every Inch of You." A humorously infantile comedy sketch for the Funny or Die website followed, backed by the video for first single "Everybody Have a Good Time."
To kick-start radio promotion, "Everybody" was serviced to various rock formats. A key component of the international campaign starts Aug. 14 when the Darkness begins supporting Lady Gaga on the European and South American legs of her Born This Way Ball tour. U.S. dates are scheduled for early next year, with Wind-up GM Alan Galbraith anticipating a two-year campaign and "a gold-selling record" in the States. "The sky is the limit," he adds.
Hawkins also considers North America untapped prime territory for the Darkness. "We've hardly started business [there]," he says, promising "several more future albums," only one of which will be a "self-indulgent, cocaine-cloud" type of record. "That will come second to last," he says, tongue once again firmly in cheek.