Is there any other man in rock ’n’ roll as heroically dedicated to Seventies-vogue catsuits and questionably suspect facial hair as Justin Hawkins is?
Almost a decade-and-a-half since The Darkness first gate-crashed the establishment with their ridiculously bombastic brand of glam metal, their frontman’s penchant for skin-tight attire remains gloriously, nakedly intact. Five albums, one break-up and a Spinal Tap-esque cast of revolving drummers into their career, little has changed; Lowestoft’s most famous purveyors of high-camp falsetto and power-chord paeans are still ploughing a wonderfully unfashionable furrow somewhere between AC/DC and Queen, hipster populism be damned.
Being out-of-vogue hasn’t stopped latest them pulling in the punters, mind you; going by the raucous crowd gathered on a freezing night for their show at Leeds’s O2 Academy, there’s clearly still an appetite for old-school riffs delivered with the aural equivalent of a Carry On cocked-eyebrow. The Darkness have always resisted the moniker of being an out-and-out parody or joke band, and their genuine musical chops has allowed them to walk the fine line between lampoon and tribute better than most. Originality, it must be said, is not their strong suit.
And why should it be? The Darkness are shamelessly built around classic rock tropes; that’s why they’re great fun in the first place. Their music – particularly post-Permission to Land, their still-excellent debut – is an enjoyably daft exercise in trawling through the rock pub jukebox. Want your licks nicked from The Cult? Open Fire ticks that box. Fancy some punked-up Judas Priest? Southern Trains delivers your fix. They’re amusing, weightless throwaways compared to lighters-in-the-air ballad Love Is Only a Feeling and coked-up cock-stomper One Way Ticket; but their retrograde, crude-sex hair-metal is still worthy of a chuckle or two.
There’s a wonderful spontaneity to Hawkins too, messy and maverick in a seafoam-green navel-baring number. Now past forty, he remains a consummate entertainer, performing handstands on the drum riser during Get Your Hands Off My Woman and improvising an ad-hoc jam about Yorkshire that revolves mostly around whippets and moors, to peals of pot-bellied laughter. By the time he’s strapped on a glitter-wrapped guitar for Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) and I Believe in a Thing Called Love, the ruddy-faced festive cheer he projects is tangible. They’re not the freshest thing on the menu this season; but The Darkness are a great, chunky winter warmer for the dark nights ahead.