Album: The Darkness

One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back, ATLANTIC
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The Independent Culture

The early salvoes in the promo campaign for this follow-up to The Darkness' multi-platinum debut haven't been that promising, to be frank. Threats to deal harshly with a journalist whose review copy of the album wound up on eBay, and a raking-over of the band's falling-out with their former bassist Frankie Poullain - isn't this all a bit grim, especially for a band whose appeal relies on self-mocking light-heartedness? Who do they think they are, Led Zeppelin?

They probably do, but the cutely-titled One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back portrays them as much closer in spirit and sound to Queen, especially now that they've drafted in Queen's old producer Roy Thomas Baker. The guitars are that bit more Brian May twiddly-widdly, Justin Hawkins' falsetto has that extra touch of Mercurial clarity, and the harmonies lavished upon the sub-operatic closer "Blind Man" seem deliberately to arouse memories of "Bohemian Rhapsody". With, hopefully, a chuckle or two along the way.

They've pulled out all the stops here, larding arrangements shamelessly with kitchen-sink extras - there are strings and a colliery-style brass band on "Blind Man", while the title-track is heralded by pan-pipes and incorporates electric sitar and the sleek rush of that most psychedelic of effects, phasing. Not that there's a great deal of subtlety or wit about the album, for all the jocularity: the song "Knockers" struggles to be even a single entendre, while the anti-coke anthem "One Way Ticket" is preceded by a loud snorting effect, just in case the rhyming of "rocket fuel" and "kicks like a mule" fails to alert listeners to a message which is somewhat diluted by the snorting, it must be noted.

"Dinner Lady Arms" recounts the singer's surprise at how an old flame has changed - "I couldn't figure out where your figure had gone" - while the ZZ Top stomp of "Bald" finds the protagonist shamefacedly seeking a pharmacist's remedy for some unspecified shortcoming of either tonsorial or sexual origin: "Look at me/ Heaven forbid/ It's not for me, you understand". Rather more amusing is "English Country Garden", a breakneck piano rocker singularly unconcerned with conjuring up any blissful pastoral idyll.

There's little here to surprise, but equally little to disappoint fans of Permission to Land. A handful of rockers leavened with a power ballad or two, plenty of guitar histrionics and vocals at a larynx-shredding falsetto pitch - all delivered with tongue close enough to cheek to deflect criticism, as The Darkness continue treading the fine line between parody and purity.

DOWNLOAD THIS: 'One Way Ticket', 'Blind Man'