The two years between the Darkness’ debut full-length, Permission to Land, and their recently released follow-up, One Way Ticket To Hell … and Back!, felt like an eternity to me. In case you are not the sleuth I though you were, I am a pretty big Darkness fan. Permission to Landwas one of my favorite releases of the 2000’s. Needless to say, I have been waiting with eagerness for the follow-up.
After learning that original bassist Frankie Poullain and the band “parted ways,” there was a bit of skepticism that the band would be able to rock at the magnitude they had reached on Permission to Land. However, after initial spins of One Way Ticket, worries about the level of rock quickly diminished. The band are still able to rock harder than anyone else making music currently in our maybe-too-self-conscious times. The big change from their previous record to this record is that the Darkness have turned down their Thin Lizzy tendencies and turned up their Queen-esque theatrics. One listen to “English Country Garden” or even the lead single, “One Way Ticket To Hell,” and one will be able to notice their move from arena-metal to a more theatrical hard rock. The Darkness even hired producer Roy Thomas Baker, the man behind numerous Queen records, as well as records by the Cars, Cheap Trick, Journey and Ozzy, to accentuate their change in sound.
But don’t worry kids, the Darkness are still able retain the music they are known for. “Is it Me?” features some of the best guitar work the Darkness have recorded; and also finds a steady balance between their pop-metal leanings and their multi-tracked theatrical background vocals. As good as “Is It Me?” is, “Bald” is really where the rock is found on One Way Ticket. The lyrics of “Bald” are amusing, but take a guess what they’re about. However, they do not steal the fact that the music behind them is perhaps the hardest the band have ever produced. The finest moment in “Bald” is at the about the 4:22 mark, where the build-up to the final chorus is, for lack of a more adequate word to describe the level of sound, incredible.
The most important difference, and the difference which really separates One Way Ticketfrom Permission to Land, is that One Way Ticket contains a couple of, well … simply not that good songs. “Knockers” and “Girlfriend” are both pretty bland, run of the mill Darkness songs. Although “Girlfriend” is almost saved from being average, by the ridiculous falsetto of lead singer Justin Hawkins reaches in the chorus. The orchestral “Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time” strives for a “November Rain” level but falls short of reaching that mark.
That being said, One Way Ticket is not a bad record by any means. Sure, it has a few low points; but the Darkness set a pretty high mark with Permission To Land. Their latest is a very good record- besides, where else are you going to find a release by a band who un-ironically refers to their music as “rock-based music of exceptional quality?”
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.