"Are these guys for real?" This was a question you heard a lot regarding The Darkness in 2003. You got the sense people, many of whom probably embraced Andrew WK's I Get Wet two years prior, wanted to like it but feared it was all a joke -- the catsuits, the falsetto, the double entendre song titles, the cheeky album art featuring a nude air marshaller guiding a UFO to the runway -- and not worthy of their serious attention.
The answer to the question? The Darkness can be funny but they're no joke. They were (and still are) very serious about crafting ultracatchy hard rock that embraced the genre's heritage, from rad riffing and incendiary solos to all the cheese that comes with it (naughty puns, outrageous singing, rawk moves, spandex). Released July 7, 2003, their debut album Permission to Land is gloriously over-the-top but it's hard to deny the songwriting, the hooks, the riffs, the solos, and performances. It's all hits.
Half of the album were actual hits in the UK where, unlike America, the Brits have a long history of embracing flamboyant razzle dazzle -- from Elton John to Slade to Sparks to Scissor Sisters -- and had no problem with The Darkness' mix of AC/DC, Judas Priest, Queen, Cheap Trick, T-Rex, etc, etc. Frontman Justin Hawkins, he of the catsuits, muliti-octave vocals range and serious guitar chops (along with his brother, Dan), was a successful jingle writer while trying to launch his own music career and packed the songs with earworm hooks and clever wordplay. "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" went to #2 in the UK (#35 in the US), and the equally catchy "Growing on Me" ('80s hair metal), "Get Your Hands off My Woman" (their debut single) and stadium-sized "Love Is Only a Feeling" also all charted.
The rest of the record is just as good: G'N'R-eque opener "Black Shuck" tells the tale of a devil dog that haunted a church; the glammy, nostalgic "Friday Night" is basically a Pulp song and should've been a single; "Love on the Rocks With No Ice" winks at Neil Diamond and has arguably the album's most badass riff and histrionic chorus (in an album full of them); and "Holding My Own," a weepy, lighters-aloft breakup anthem that is also about masturbation.
Hawkins laid on the double entendres thick all over Permission to Land, all sung, the choruses at least, in a flashy falsetto that was probably a deal-breaker for some. "Growing on Me" may seem like a love song about a blossoming relationship but is in fact about genital warts. Their holiday single released later that year, "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" (#2 in the UK), had a children's choir singing the title which is easily their most groan-worthy groin pun.
Even the album's weaker songs are pretty great on a musical level. "Givin' Up" is their stab at an addiction anthem (not the greatest genre) but has a fantastic descending riff in the pre-chorus and an amazing double solo; that song segues seamlessly into boogie rocker "Stuck in a Rut" that has a killer double-time breakdown and a twin-lead solo worthy of Thin Lizzy. About the solos: there are a lot of them. Most songs have at least a couple and Justin Hawkins is fond of announcing them ("GUITAR!"), but they're always melodic and never overstay their welcome. The album is also loaded with Jim Steinman key changes, bombastic breakdowns, extended heavy metal endings, all the rock moves short of drum solos.
With production that avoided any 2003-era sonic touchstones -- and didn't go near any Mutt Lange '80s rawk tropes either -- Permission to Land still sounds great 20 years on and holds up a lot better than a lot of other albums of the era (sorry AWK). It remains a totally ridiculous, totally awesome blast.
The Darkness' music videos from Permission to Land are equally over-the-top, especially "Growing on Me" and "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" which both feature aliens and other ridiculous things. You can watch those and listen to the album below.
Permission to Land went quadruple platinum in the UK United Kingdom, and won the Brit Award for Best British Album (The Darkness also won Best British Group and Best British Rock Act). To celebrate the album's 20th anniversary there's a new reissue and deluxe box set edition, and the band will be playing it in full on tour this fall. The Darkness are best experienced live.
Justin Hawkins, who stumbled into a second career as a very popular YouTuber with his Justin Hawkins Rides Again channel, talked with brother/bandmate Dan about Permission to Land, and ran through some of the album's rejected titles which included "Guitarchitecture," "Axecalibur," and "Deaf in Both Ears" (that's one's actually good!). Watch below: