The Darkness, a flamboyant rock act with a penchant for Spandex catsuits and crunching guitar solos, were narrowly ahead yesterday in one of the tightest Christmas chart races for years.
The band has broken with recent convention by actually bothering to give a seasonal slant to its festive release, "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)".
The Suffolk quartet is just 3,000 copies ahead of its nearest rivals, Michael Andrews and Gary Jules; the race is still wide open until the winner is announced tonight. Latest sales figures show the Darkness have shifted nearly 133,000 copies.
Andrews and Jules's sparse cover of the Tears for Fears song "Mad World" was initially an outsider. But strong radio play for the bleak track from the film Donnie Darko mobilised interest.
The bookmakers' favourite, a cover of the Plastic Ono Band's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by the Pop Idol finalists, has been largely snubbed by record buyers.
Simon Dornan of Virgin Megastores said: "This is by far the closest race for the Christmas number one we've ever seen."
If the Darkness reach the top it will be the first time since 1989's cover of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" that a festive chart-topper has mentioned the word Christmas. The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins said: "If we get to number one that's the job done for this year. People want to get behind a proper British rock band - not all that other stuff that's in the charts."
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