Sound — 8
The Darkness burst onto the world music scene in 2003 with their classic debut album "Permission to Land," which went platinum in four countries. However, it soon became clear that the raunchy, balls to the wall mentality of the album translated to real life; the band went too far with the sex, drugs, rock and roll approach and within three years, lead singer Justin Hawkins was in rehab for a cocaine addiction and The Darkness had broken up. In 2011, the band got back together. "Last of Our Kind" is the band's second album since their reunion, featuring Emily Dolan Davies on drums to replace original drummer Ed Graham who left the band just prior to the recording of the album. But between the recording and release of the album, Davies left the band and was replaced by Rufus Taylor, the son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Needless to say, the world is praying for young Rufus, who is widely expected to spontaneously combust in the near future.
In all seriousness, The Darkness have spent the last decade trying to live up to their bombastic debut. With this album though, instead of trying to equal their first album, the band is trying something different: a concept album based on medieval Viking/Danish invasions of the UK. The Darkness backs up the eclectic theme of the album with some eclectic (for their music) sounds that involve a good deal of synthesizers and modulation effects to complement their standard '70s hard rock sound. In keeping with the Spinal Tap references, the first synth notes of "Mighty Wings" sound eerily similar to "Stonehenge."
Despite the addition of the synthesizers, this album is still intensely guitar driven. The guitar work is The Darkness' best since "Permission to Land." All of the songs are filled with memorable riffs (though they're not always the first riff) and melodic pentatonic guitar solos that add substance to the songs. Rarely do the solos venture into sections that are just aimless shredding, though Justin does have a few moments where his tapping ventures a little too far from the designated path. Dan Hawkins' cranked Marshall tone, awesome as ever, is engineered better here than on the band's last album "Hot Cakes."
The drumming on the album is noticeably weak. Drums for The Darkness have always been simple under Ed Graham, but it seems that Emily Dolan Davies took this as a command to do nothing more than keep time. With Graham, there would usually be a couple of memorable fills or hits. Davies' drumming isn't bad in the manner that she seems unskilled. But it is so restricted it almost seems like she was nervous to intrude on Dan Hawkins' guitar parts.
Another unfortunate weakness of this album is its lack of star power. All of the songs are either average or very good, but none are over the top. On "Permission to Land," there were many songs that had the "it" factor to make them special, like "Get Your Hands Off My Woman," "Love on the Rocks With No Ice," and most notably "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." These songs took a certain element, whether it was pop sensibility or overdriven testosterone, over the top to make something truly memorable. Most of the songs on "Last of Our Kind" are on the level of the secondary songs of "Permission to Land," like "Givin' Up" and "Holding My Own." Of course, this is still better than almost anything The Darkness has released in the last decade, yet at the same time, it doesn't seem like enough to jumpstart their career, which is in desperate need of new, solid support outside of the UK.
Lyrics — 6
On this album, Justin Hawkins retains that high-pitched, often falsettoed voice that most people seem to either love or hate. He does a nice job stretching his voice to its outermost limits with the falsetto, but sometimes this sounds annoying and childish (chorus of "Barbarian") than cool, though there are the cool moments. A weird part with Hawkins' voice on this album is that there are two songs ("Open Fire" and "Conquerors") where the vocals are sung in a lower register than Hawkins usually sings. No other singers are credited on the album but I wouldn't be surprised if it came out that someone else was singing on those songs.
Lyrically, it seems like Hawkins is treating his historical subject like a comic book. Maybe it's just that his voice seems so juvenile, but Hawkins is certainly not giving his subject the Iron Maiden history treatment. In addition, if The Darkness consciously care about reaching the top again (though they very well may not), they should realize that "I believe in a thing called love" has more mainstream appeal than the Viking line, "We are the last of our kind," especially when considering that the guitar parts would be the same regardless of the album's theme.
Overall Impression — 8
One of the nice surprises about this album is its replay value. I have listened to the album maybe four times by now and it gets better with each listen. I would have thought that straight ahead rock like The Darkness' would be easy to gauge on a first listen but they have proven me wrong. While this album doesn't quite live up to "Permission to Land," it is still the band's best work in a decade. It will certainly give The Darkness' live show, one of the best in the world, the fuel it needs to forge ahead. Moreover, while the band does take a slight departure from its normal album shtick, it is still clear that the band is trying to live up to the reputation that they built for themselves in 2003.