The Darkness
Image: Simon Emmett

The Darkness Are As Ridiculous As Ever On New Album ‘Motorheart’

Since their inception in the early-noughties, The Darkness have been perceived as fitting somewhere between Queen and Spinal Tap. But lacking the self-seriousness of most Queen descendants, and avoiding the derisory humour of Spinal Tap, The Darkness have not only stuck around, but become the most enduring glam rock band of the contemporary era.

Many of The Darkness’ biggest songs, including ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, ‘Christmas Time’ and ‘One Way Ticket’, are now staples of rock radio, sharing airtime with songs by their genetic forerunners, Queen, T-Rex and Cheap Trick.

The foursome of Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain and Rufus Taylor have also kept busy – aside from a five-year dormancy following their second album, 2005’s One Way Ticket To Hell… and Back, The Darkness’ release history has been impressively consistent.

The UK band’s new album, Motorheart, is their seventh overall and it arrives just two years after their previous effort, Easter Is Cancelled. In contrast to the tight conceptual structure of Easter Is Cancelled, Motorheart finds The Darkness operating at their loosest and most extroverted frequency.

This belies the fact that Motorheart was written and recorded amid the uncertainty of UK’s ever-changing pandemic restrictions, but it also speaks to the band’s founding ethos. Essentially, if everything else turns to shit, in rock’n’roll they trust.

Music Feeds spoke to The Darkness’ bass player, Frankie Poullain, about staying ridiculous, writing the new album, and singer Justin Hawkins’ habit of filtering his troubles through the lens of tongue-in-cheek rock’n’roll.

Music Feeds: Motorheart feels looser and more fun than Easter Is Cancelled. Is the style of songwriting on this album a reaction to what you did on Easter Is Cancelled?

Frankie Poullain: We just wanted to give ourselves what we needed and quite often when you give yourself what you need, you’re also giving your fans what they need. Also, because Easter Is Cancelled was our most “thoughtful” album, with this one we wanted to be thoughtless – thoughtless and selfish and ignorant.

We didn’t want to be clever on this album, we just wanted to be instinctive. And Justin exorcised whatever he was going through at the time through a process of having fun.

MF: When you say Justin exorcised what he was going through at the time, are you able to elaborate?

FP: Just life, you know? I suppose Easter Is Cancelled was made as the breakup was happening and I guess this is the aftermath of that. But at the end of the day, it’s just life and a lot of it is actually just being locked up and the pandemic itself. But that’s the way he fights against it, which is what we all love about him – rather than feeling sorry for himself or becoming all introverted about it.

MF: I’m sure Darkness fans will be relieved that Motorheart isn’t an album about the coronavirus lockdowns, anti-vaxxers, Donald Trump or Boris Johnson.

FP: The last album, in a way, there’s an argument to say that it prophesised what was going to happen. You know, because he’s singing about the rise of the “arseclowns” in the lyrics of ‘Easter Is Cancelled’ itself. There’s some things in there that sound like they almost prophesised what happened next.

Also, there was a headline in the national newspaper here, The Sun, that said “Easter is cancelled” a year after the album came out. Obviously it was because of the pandemic, but it’s not a phrase that you see every day.

MF: If you compare the making and releasing of Motorheart to how you were feeling around, for example, One Way Ticket To Hell… and Back, do you think your commercial expectations and artistic ambitions have changed much over the years?

FP: Yeah, I think so. It’s a different perspective and a different approach. It’s a lot more precious to us, what we do, and we cherish it more. Not being on a major label, too, makes a difference. You’re much more empowered and you haven’t got that thing of blaming the label. Generally we take responsibility for ourselves.

MF: What level of input did your label and management have while you were working on this record?

FP: We have great management at the moment; Chris Taplin and his wife Polly. We’ve had them for six or seven years now and they do an incredible job. They’re a very smart couple and we can play things to them and they always get it and we’re pretty much always on the same page.

It really is a huge thing, because careers are made or destroyed according to band management. Believe me, we’ve been through three management companies before and there was a lot of turmoil and a lot of anguish and just a horrible feeling in your gut in just being misrepresented.

You can’t be a chaotic, anarchic, whatever you want to call it, rock band doing what you want to do unless you’ve got that stability behind you. It’s not easy and unfortunately you have to make mistakes to find that. But we do feel like we’ve found it now – it just seems to get better and better.

MF: A lot of people are attracted to The Darkness for how ridiculous you are. Several songs on Motorheart, like the title track and ‘It’s Love, Jim’, demonstrate your ability to not take yourselves too seriously, but also to not let the work suffer as a result.

FP: We definitely aren’t afraid to dip our toes into bad taste. But what people think is bad taste, it’s always in inverted commas anyway. It’s so arrogant to say something is good or bad; it’s never black or white.

At the moment everyone just loves looking back at culture from the ’80s. It’s so charming, especially now with all the restrictions we have, to see in the ’80s people being completely unapologetic. The worst thing about now is so much culture is apologetic and that’s a recipe for mediocrity.

MF: When it comes to staying true to the essence of The Darkness – keeping it bawdy, over the top, close to the edge – do you ever worry about disapproval from the arbiters of contemporary culture?

FP: Occasionally, but not too often. I don’t think we’re nasty people and I don’t think we really have anything to hide, but occasionally you can go a bit too far. You’ve just got to trust your instincts. I don’t think we do edit ourselves too much, but these are tricky times because the goalposts keep changing. But there’s nothing wrong with being sexy, you know?

The Darkness’ new album ‘Motorheart’ is out now.

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