Hot Leg

Red Light Fever

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By the time Justin Hawkins announced his departure from the Darkness in 2006, the band's flamboyant frontman had picked up a cocaine habit which suggested he'd been taking his role as an unapologetic resuscitator of hair metal's hedonistic excess regrettably seriously, even if taking things seriously seemed otherwise utterly foreign to the Darkness' M.O. By 2009, however, Hawkins was out of rehab, several years sober, and ready to rock once more, though by no means was he ready to tone down the glorious extravagance of his self-styled Man-Rock. His new outfit Hot Leg, despite a somewhat feeble name, carried forth his former band's outrageously schticky spirit essentially unaltered; if anything, they're even more over the top -- in musical terms, glammier, or more specifically, Queenier -- than the Darkness were. Stripping back the slightly ponderous tendencies that plagued that band's de facto swan song, One Way Ticket to Hell, the light-hearted Red Light Fever feels like a return to the giddy immediacy of their earlier days, with the emphasis placed squarely on righteously hooky riffage and the marvel of falsetto that is Hawkins' "truth larynx." There are some incandescent choruses here: the multi-tracked sugar rushes of "You Can't Hurt Me Anymore" and "Whichever Way You Wanna Give It" recall the pop confectionery of "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," although they suffer (as does much of the album) from verses that are rather less memorable. First single "Trojan Guitar" is a ridiculously epic romp that makes excellent use of a medieval battlefield narrative (possibly an allegorical telling of Hawkins' personal saga with and since the Darkness), but a couple of the album's better hooks are undercut by lyrics that feel, improbably enough, too frivolous, especially the anti-reality TV rant "Ashamed" and the jokey slag-off "I've Met Jesus" (though its punchline is worth a chuckle.) The peppy, cowbell-laden "Cocktails" seems pretty dire on that score too, with verses that offer little more than a list of mixed drinks, but it's all just an endearingly sophomoric excuse for Hawkins to repeat the syllable "cock" a dozen or so times in the ludicrously irresistible chorus. If that didn't make it queer enough for you, "Gay in the 80s" is a relatively straightforward, if slight, ode to coming out in the decade of excess, though despite some lovely choral vocals it's one of the less musically flamboyant cuts here. Above all, Red Light Fever is simply a blast from start to finish, with even the handful of relatively forgettable tracks managing to offer something of interest, like "Chickens"' preposterous operatic wails and "Kissing in the Wind"'s perfectly pitched harpsichord breakdown. So even if they never quite reach the heights of their predecessors' finest moments, Hot Leg are still a tremendous amount of fun; solid proof that there is light (and certainly lightness) at the end of the Darkness.

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