America never really understood the Darkness. In fairness, when the band hit stateside in the early 2000s, the country hadn’t seen a frontman regularly wear spandex unitards since David Lee Roth could execute a high-kick without pulling his groin. So audiences can be forgiven for thinking the group, with its glam-metal bombast and singer Justin Hawkins’ cat-disturbing castrato, was just a Spinal Tap-ish put-on. Compared to the band’s native England, where it was, for a time, a national phenomenon, the American reaction to the Darkness was mostly one of confusion: Yanks couldn’t comprehend a rock band being, at once, totally ripping and utterly fucking ridiculous.
According to guitarist Dan Hawkins, however, in some ways, the band feels more at home in the States than in Britain.
“People can actually let go and have a good time here, whereas sometimes, in the U.K., there’s a ‘too cool for school’ kind of thing,” Hawkins says over the phone from Denver, where the Darkness is in the midst of its first North American tour in about eight years. “And in many ways, we’re possibly the most uncool band that’s ever existed.”
If “uncool” is defined by being several decades out of step with the zeitgeist, well, then, yes, the Darkness is pretty uncool. Its 2003 debut, Permission to Land, mixed Def Leppard pomp with AC/DC stomp and a Queen-like sense of camp. Get past the lyrics about genital warts, masturbation and pingpong, though, and it’s a near-perfect hard rock record, full of monstrous riffs and hooks galore. Cool or not, the album exploded in the U.K., going five-times platinum and slingshotting the band from clubs to stadiums—precisely where its outsized live show, featuring multiple wardrobe changes and Justin flying over the crowd on the back of a life-sized tiger, belonged. In the United States, Permission to Land only sold a fraction of what it did across the pond, but the single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was too much of an amusing curiosity—and too crazy-catchy—to not become a hit.
Things, as they’re wont to do, started going awry around the time of the band’s second album. Shortly after the release of 2005’s One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back, with the band’s hard partying catching up to it (“Instead of burning the candle from both ends, we took a fucking torch to it,” Dan says), Justin went into rehab, and the Darkness fell apart.
In 2009, the band reconciled. Last year, it launched a full-fledged reunion, and is in the process of recording a third album. “There are some really heartfelt songs on this record, but there’s also some ridiculous stuff, and probably a return to the stupidly rocking kind of stuff,” Dan says. Looking back, he admits the Darkness probably could’ve helped itself by playing things a bit more straight, “instead of showering ourselves in glitter and running around like idiots.” But after doing time in more “serious” projects during the hiatus, he says it’s a relief to be back with a group where coolness isn’t much of a concern.
“We’re all blessed to be in a band where it’s a necessity not to take yourself too seriously,” he says.
SEE IT: The Darkness plays Roseland Theater on Thursday, Feb. 23, with Foxy Shazam and Crown Jewel Defense. 8 pm. $23. All ages.