The Darkness

Pinewood Smile

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The fifth full-length release and the first Darkness outing for Cooking Vinyl, Pinewood Smile is also the inaugural studio jaunt for new drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of Queen's Roger Taylor), who took over for Emily Dolan Davies after the release of 2015's excellent Last of Our Kind. Less seaworthy than its predecessor but delivered with the same freewheeling sonic brinksmanship, Pinewood Smile feels both rote and ready; a fully stocked tinder box with nary a match in sight. To be fair, Last of Our Kind was almost too good of a distillation of what makes the Darkness so compelling -- at their best, they're a near perfect amalgam of Thin Lizzy, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC; both self-aware and hopelessly in love with the dumb pageantry of rock & roll. Unsurprisingly, it's the LP's three singles ("All the Pretty Girls," "Solid Gold," and "Southern Trains") that recapture that magic, delivering just the right balance of pomp and grit -- the ludicrous, swashbuckling send-up "Buccaneers of Hispaniola" and similarly Monty Python-esque sister track "Japanese Prisoner of Love" might be growers. Also, the soulful, R&B-kissed "Why Don't the Beautiful Cry?" and the atypically self-conscious "I Wish I Was in Heaven," the latter of which very frankly examines the group's post-Permission to Land struggles, prove that Justin Hawkins is more than just an extraordinarily gifted party metal ponce. That said, at a very economical ten tracks, Pinewood Smile should be all killer no filler, but late-album offerings like the vapid "Happiness" and the infantile no-fatties ballad "Stampede of Love" -- Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" was ludicrous and infantile, but it wasn't cruel -- suck some air out of the room, making the whole thing feel a little stale, which is the last thing you want from a project that so fetishizes another era.

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