Pinewood Smile review by The Darkness

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  • Released: Oct 6, 2017
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8 (10 votes)
The Darkness: Pinewood Smile

Sound — 8
With their debut album "Permission To Land" and its follow-up "One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back", The Darkness sparked a revival of the days of spandex catsuits, stratospheric singing, Les-Paul-into-Marshall tone, and four-on-the-floor drumming. After their initial breakup in 2006, bands like Steel Panther took the tribute to 80s glam metal even further, though more into the realms of satire, and bands with a different background began adopting elements of the style, like Black Veil Brides. In the meantime, The Darkness returned in 2012 with their album "Hot Cakes", and again in 2015 with "Last of Our Kind". Retaining three quarters of their classic lineup (vocalist/guitarist Justin Hawkins, his brother Dan on guitar, and bassist Frankie Poullain), and featuring new member Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of legendary Queen drummer Roger Taylor) on drums, replacing Emily Dolan Davies (who briefly replaced original drummer Ed Graham), "Pinewood Smile" is a quirky and endearing album, though maybe not one that'll match the punch of their debut.

Musically, as always, the album is a tribute to 70s classic rock and 80s glam metal, chock full of stomping riffs, wailing guitar solos, and simple, fun songwriting. The hooky "All The Pretty Girls" opens the album with some convincing late-70s power-pop, and a deliciously Chuck Berry-esque solo, and it's a clear-cut good choice for first single and a great opening statement for the album. "Buccaneers of Hispaniola" continues in this vein, but with an almost progressive edge to it and some really excellent guitar riffs. The AC/DC-styled "Solid Gold" is some pure hard-rock fun with some absolutely hilarious lyrics about making it in the music industry. "Southern Trains" takes a slightly harder-rocking departure with some of the album's fastest and most aggressive riffing, but the band still finds the time to include a psychedelic bridge before one of the album's most furious guitar solos. Taking us to the realm of late 70s glam-rock is "Why Don't the Beautiful Cry?", one of the softer songs on the album, with plenty of Justin's high-pitched vocals and clean guitars.

This tune is further sandwiched by another one of the album's most aggressive rock tunes, "Japanese Prisoner of Love", starting with one of the album's heavier riffs, before shifting into territory that wouldn't be terribly uncomfortable for fans of Thin Lizzy. "Lay Down With Me, Barbara" is a love song that comes close to ballad territory at times, but does feature a pretty rockin' chorus. "I Wish I Was In Heaven" starts with a chord progression that could almost be considered "modern" in a pop context, but the fast drumming gives the tune a power-pop edge, almost making one of the album's saddest songs sound positively jangly. On the complete opposite side of the coin, acoustic guitars start off "Happiness" before bringing us into a Cheap Trick-style tune about summer (ironic considering the album is being released in early autumn). Closing out the album is "Stampede of Love", a folky acoustic ballad with some hilarious lyrics that picks up a bit in the latter half with heavier guitars and drums.

As with all of the other albums by The Darkness, the musicianship is particularly top-notch, with excellent classic rock riffing and soloing all over the place, great interplay between the bass and drums, and a great way with taking a simple song and arranging it into something a bit more complex and deep. It never really feels like the band overplays at any point on the record, almost to the point of the album feeling a bit more "restrained" than previous efforts. There's a bit of variety in the writing, too, with pop hooks sharing space with some totally hard-rocking riffs. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of pianos and synthesizers on this record, contrasting a bit with the overblown production of the band's first two albums, and it almost feels like the production on this album is likewise a bit restrained compared to past albums, though there's still plenty of stacked vocal harmonies. The mix is also nice and clear, perhaps even a bit raw at times, but it's great to hear the bass so clearly on many points of the album.

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Lyrics — 8
Lyrics are perhaps one of the hardest things to really quantify about The Darkness. At times, the band seems to almost revel in satire, and need to be taken with a particularly big grain of salt. There is a distinct comedy element about the band, from dealing with the music business on "Solid Gold" ("There's a guy coming down from Sony/Artist an' repertoire/If he likes what he hears in those stupid ears/I'll buy myself a faster car/He's blowing smoke up our asses/Everything we do is ace/He wants to wine and dine us, desperate to sign us/'Cause we melted his fuckin' face") and some particularly outrageous lyrics on "Stampede of Love" ("You walked in and the ground shook/can't believe how much food you took/looked to me with those hungry eyes/you were eyeing up my fries/to the naked eye you're a perfect sphere/stomach bulging out to here/don't know if my heart will last/never had a love this fast"). But there's also a sort of sincerity to the band's lyrics at times that almost makes them quite endearing, whether it's an honest love song in "Lay Down With Me, Barbara", a very chipper and positive "Happiness" ("This is the best summer ever/We're so gonna make love, tonight/Alone on the beach, here together/Holding each other so tight/And I said/This is my heart/No one ever broke it/But what about my ego?/You don't have to stroke it/Repeat after me/I love you (I love you), you said").

There are also moments where the band gets a little deeper, without losing their sense of humour. "All the Pretty Girls" describes some of the issues that come with becoming popular with the opposite sex after "making it" as a musician, while "Buccaneers of Hispaniola" flirts with the historical lyrics the band used to their full potential on 2015's conceptual "The Last of Our Kind". "Southern Trains" is a scathing review of the rail service in the south of England ("It's a journey into pure despair/there are fucking assholes everywhere/I can smell piss and shit in the air/fuck you southern trains/we're not getting anywhere"). And the band even gets a little maudlin on "Why Don't the Beautiful Cry?" and "I Wish I Was In Heaven", though both describe depression with the band's typical tongue-in-cheek attitude.

Justin Hawkins' vocals remain the centerpiece of the album, often soaring into the stratosphere, occasionally stacked high with as many harmonies as can be fit onto a track. While past Darkness albums may have been accused of overproduction on a musical level as well, the more raw production of this record actually lends itself a little better to the harmonies, even if they do feel a little out of place on a couple tracks (particularly "All the Pretty Girls").

Overall Impression — 8
With a revival of sorts of the glam-rock scene, it's good to see one of the originators of that revival still has the chops, the charisma and the humour to compete with other bands in their style, and still have the ability to keep a very distinctive sound all the while. This album may not end up being the classic that "Permission To Land" was, and while there are plenty of good hooks, nothing really comes as close on "Pinewood Smile" to the likes of "I Believe In A Thing Called Love". But this is not necessarily a bad thing, and the songs on this album are probably some of the best that the band has crafted since their debut.

Their music is not necessarily the most original style out there, but as a tribute to a simpler time for hard rock, it's excellent, and "Pinewood Smile" is definitely something to smile about. If you're a fan of fun, classic hard rock, this could be the album you're looking for.

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14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    sinForge xJp
    Although I loved this album a lot, I'm surprised it got a better review than Last Of Our Kind
    Since I didn't do the review for that album, I guess it's understandable. I never actually really gave that album much of a chance myself. Should probably dig it out and give it another spin!
    I really have no idea what The Darkness are doing.  Last of our kind was a masterpiece of an album that gelled perfectly together.  This album I thought was tripe.  Lyrically it's a mess.  Nothing catchy, no good hooks or hummable choruses.  Not even particularly clever, though it thinks it is, which is the worst.  Trite, chest-pounding bullshit.  Their best lyrics are always the ones that slyly nod and wink at you when you pick up on the double entendre.  Here they are just stupid and blunt which makes them kind of ugly to listen to.   Musically I thought it was flat as well.  No soaring solos that echo the feelings from the chorus.  Again nothing that caught the ear.  Certainly nothing that made me want to listen to it over and over like the Last of Our Kind did.  It seemed very much like a cash-grab album.  Put together fast with no real thought or feeling.  Even the artwork in the album is terrible.  A badly put together Photoshop collage on the front and then some truly rubbish pictures in the liner sleeve.  It seems that maybe the new drummer that signed on for the last album brought some fire that pushed the band to write some good material but then that fire went out.  This feels like a collection of poor b-sides and demos that should never have seen the light of day.  I really hoped that Last of Our Kind heralded a triumphant return to form for The Darkness, but I guess being a fan of this band is more like a rollercoaster ride than a rocket launch!
    As much as I gotta disagree with pretty much everything else, I'll give you that on the artwork. I mean, I kind of get that The Darkness is going for that whole "ugly late-70s/early-80s b-grade glam-rock cover" thing, but an ugly cover is an ugly cover  
    That's the whole point of opinions.  There's no one size fits all option! I felt similarly about Hot Cakes and One Way Ticket To Hell and Back.  So I'd mostly written The Darkness off as one album wonders because I totally loved Permission To Land.  But then they released Last of Our Kind which I just adore as an album.  It's really cohesive in both it's sound and lyrical themes and there are plenty of moments that made me smile or just think "ooh nice!"  So when I heard about a new album I pledged immediately on PledgeMusic.  It turned up last week and I put it on straight away to listen to but none of the tracks brought me any excitement of joy, or really any feeling at all.  It all seemed very rock-by-number.  This, hot on the heels of such an excellent album seems like such a let down.
    This is indeed a very fun album, I'm not sure it's as good as Last of Our Kind yet, and Permission to Land is obviously untouchable, but for me it beats Hot Cakes and most of One Way Ticket in terms of quality.  I will say that the B-Sides (Uniball, Rack of Glam, Seagulls and Rock In Space) for this album are also worth checking out - the first two are particularly hard hitting songs that are somewhat reminiscent of Permission to Land's sound.  Highlights for me are the songs Buccaneers of Hispaniola, Japanese Prisoner of Love, Lay Down With Me Barbara, and Uniball.
    I had the B-sides when reviewing this album, and here's the thing about bonus tracks and B-sides... I'm never quite sure if I should give them mention in reviews, because they're not going to be available on every copy of the album and, to me, they're not "part of the album", just tacked-on bonuses that some people who pay a little more or live in a certain part of the world get. But on the other hand, sometimes the bonus tracks or B-sides are quite excellent and even notable for the band and become a very important part of that album cycle... so it's kind of tough to tell whether I should be mentioning them in a review or not. Otherwise, yeah, I'd probably rank Darkness albums similarly. This is definitely better than Hot Cakes and One Way Ticket (though I happen to really like the latter album), not sure if it's any better than Last of Our Kind yet.
    Last of our kind was an amazing album, the tones, chugging riffs and guitar solos all worked so good together, was hoping this was a new path for them but i guess not sadly. Maybe the next one will go back to last of our kind levels of greatness.
    So far what I've heard isn't even musically close to L.o.o.K.   I've only heard 3 songs, but every one of them had the weak, mediocre standard blues-rock riffs that you learn by the time you're 15.  I hope the rest is better and I tend to take a listen.  Not rating this just yet.
    I found this album took a good few listens to get into it. I think L.o.O.K isn't as good as Hot Cakes but once I stopped the direct comparison and just took the album for what it was, I got on with it. Pinewood Smile left me with much the same feeling. My main issue was the track listing. Song 1-5 flow well but Japanese Prisoner of Love then saps the momentum. It's got a great riff but that riff isn't played for most of the track. I'm not of the same opinion as Zaxsk8. I think the lyrics are as silly as ever and no less smart/clever than L.o.O.K or Hot Cakes. Most of these 'B Sides' will hold up when performed live. I can imagine Rock In Space having some decent props and light show.
    Agreed. Hot Cakes is certainly their most underrated album and probably my second-favorite after PTL. New albums from The Darkness are always a reason to celebrate and they haven't let me down yet!
     the songs on this album are probably some of the best that the band has crafted since their debut.  
    This is a statement that appears on every review of a new Darkness album, and that's not a bad thing. Since their comeback they're one of the few bands that have been putting out consistently great music. I can't wait to get stuck into the new album. (On a lighter note, man, looking at that video they haven't aged a day since Permission To Land. Fair play boys.)
    I've got such mixed feelings about this album. I thought Last of Our Kind was an outstanding album. After Hot Cakes, which was easily their worst effort, it was a surprise to hear such a muscular Darkness flirting with shades of The Cult and Rush. But then they release Pinewood Smile which seems like a step backwards towards Hot Cakes territory. Very confusing as a listener. However, taken on it's own, this album is pretty good. It's a light, fun record. I'd rate it above Hot Cakes but below their other releases.
    No opinions on the music, but thats one of the ugliest album covers i've seen in a while