Let me get this out of the way: THE LAST OF OUR KIND is hands-down my favorite album to come out so far in 2015. Not that there’s been much really good rock music released this year. Still, even if there had a few more notable releases this year, I’m confident this album would still be a beacon of hope. The Darkness are back and better than they’ve ever been.If you like boisterous, 1970’s-style rock full of cocky-swagger that’s fun/catchy as hell…then The Darkness is your band. Many people, most people I’d wager, really only remember the band from their hit “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” from 2003’s PERMISSION TO LAND. To those people I say: get bigger record collections. Seriously. The band’s second album ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL…AND BACK was a staggeringly leap forward in my opinion. The songs were better, the hooks were way catchier than the first record, and lead singer Justin Hawkins amazing vocal prowess truly shined. The band then went through a period of darkness (pun intended) when Hawkins left the band and went into rehab.
But The Darkness returned in 2012 with their third album HOT CAKES. That record (you can read my review here) was another homerun for the band. That they’ve never really let me down is both kind of amazing and little scary every time the band releases a new record. The turmoil surrounding them this go-round involved their drummer (I call this AC/DC Syndrome). First, long time drummer Ed Graham left the band in September 2014 and was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies (whom you can read about/ogle here). A lady drummer in The Darkness? How positively progressive! Alas, it wasn’t meant to be…and Emily left the band in April of this year citing a desire to work on “other projects.” So while Davies is on THE LAST OF OUR KIND, The Darkness have a new drummer in the form of Rufus Taylor. That’s right, the band that sound more than a little like Queen went out and got the son of Queen’s drummer to be in their band. So there was definitely some rock star shenanigans and/or drama surrounding the band while they were recording THE LAST OF OUR KIND. Does any of that make it onto the record? Nope, not in the slightest.
THE LAST OF OUR KIND opens with the sounds of the ocean and an old man reciting a poem about Vikings before the opening guitar riff of “Barbarian” hits. This is important because the album has a very strong Norse/Viking theme running throughout. Now while I wouldn’t go so far as to call THE LAST OF OUR KIND a concept album, there is a definite thread tying all the songs together. And that thread is kick-ass Norse warriors.“Barbarian” is pretty much The Darkness’ version of “The Immigrant Song.” Though whereas Led Zeppelin’s song is an ethereal chant, “Barbarian” is the rowing song of bloodthirsty men on their way to plunder foreign shores. While the first track conjures the spirit of the mighty Zep, the second track “Open Fire” definitely calls forth The Cult. It’s really just the guitar effect the band is using, but this has torpedoed many fans’ opinion of the song (which is the album’s second single). I’ll admit to being less-than-enthusiastic about the track the first few times I heard it, but it’s been growing on me (pun intended) the more I listen to it.
The album’s title track is probably the most Darkness-y track on the album. “The Last of Our Kind” is jam packed with Hawkin’s trademark faux-falsetto* and lyrical bravado. On the surface, the song is both a celebration and a lamentation about Norse warriors—but we all know that the song is also about The Darkness and their place in the modern rock scene. The track features some really great use of guitar harmonies that reminds me of Thin Lizzy. Not to let the ladies down, THE LAST OF OUR KIND also has a couple of really good love songs. For example,“Wheels of the Machine” which is a very cock-rock style love song featuring a lot of tough fire/burning imagery (tough love). The song is notable for mentioning the object of Hawkins affections is named Sarah. This is important because the most kick-ass song on the entire record is “Sarah O’Sarah.” That song opens with some of the most propulsive guitar I’ve ever heard. I love big sloppy love songs and “Sarah O’Sarah” is pretty great. Lyrically it’s dopey (and again features lots of burning/fire references) but I like how vulnerable and straightforward the words are. Similarly, “Hammer & Tongs**” has a joyful we’re-back-together-and-that’s-how-it-should-be vibe that’s a refreshing change from most love songs in the arena rock genre/wheelhouse. Also, let me point out that this song again features really heavy usage of fire and burning imagery. Weird***.
Other tracks worth mentioning are the arena-ready anthem “Conquerors” and “Mudslide.” The former closes out the album and features bass player Frankie Poullian on lead vocals.“Conquerors” surprised me and makes me wonder what great albums we’re missing out on from a Poullain-fronted band. Meanwhile, “Mudslide” which is the only track co-written by Emily Dolan Davies, has a nice Bonham-esque quality (read: steady, thumping drums). Man, it’s a bummer that Davies ended up leaving the band.
THE LAST OF OUR KIND is definitely a throwback to a bygone era. Back when rock bands (and their album sales) were much, much bigger. Though they aren’t nearly as popular as they were at the height of PERMISSION TO LAND’s initial success, The Darkness continue to bravely churn out records that are top-to-bottom fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased an album—after hearing THE LAST OF OUR KIND I immediately hopped online and bought a physical copy. I also can’t recall the last time a band put out a record that I could listen to multiple times without skipping a track. And that brings me to my only complaint/quibble about THE LAST OF OUR KIND: it’s way to short. With only ten songs and a total running time of 41 minutes, the album feels like it’s over too quickly. So while there’s no fat on the album and I praise it for not having any skip-able tracks, I do feel bummed every time the final song “Conquerors” comes to a close. I guess if I had to pick between a good album that’s long and great one that’s a bit on the short-side, I’d pick the short one every time. So, here I am in June with my pick for album of the year: THE LAST OF OUR KIND.
*The first draft of this review (yes, I know could you imagine how terrible these posts are BEFORE I edit them?) referred to Hawkins’ vocal style as a “falsetto.” This apparently isn’t true. Though I really don’t understand why it isn’t, here is a tweet from the man himself:
**Hammer & Tongs is a euphemism generally meaning “energetically, enthusiastically, or with great vehemence.” So there ya go, you learn something new every day.
***I really didn’t notice just how much fire/burning/flame imagery THE LAST OF OUR KIND had until I sat down to write this review. Seriously: “Open Fire,””Wheels of the Machine,” “Sarah O’Sarah,” and “Hammer & Tongs” all do this. It’s almost like a lyrical tic.