When The Darkness entered the spotlight in 2003, the parenthetical question was: "Are these guys for real?"
Glam rock long had given up for dead. So, did these guys really and truly love all things '70s and '80s rock, or were the spandex unitards, feather boas, long hair, lavish stage props and pyrotechnics, and over-the-top solos (often on bent knees) more a comedic poke at baby boomers' loving memory of the indulgence and excess of rock's crowning era?
Trouble is, when considering that The Darkness — guitarists Justin (lead and vocals) and Dan (rhythm guitar and backing vocals) Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain, and drummer Ed Graham — is still out there doing the same thing, the question becomes more difficult to answer.
When asking why, it's important to note that the music industry was always skeptical too.
"There couldn't have been less of a buzz . . . The business as a whole thought they were uncool. In fact, people were saying that they were a joke and that they weren't real," Sony Music UK A&R man Nick Rapheal told HitQuarters in May 2005 of the band's beginnings, some 15 months before the band broke up. (As part of the unnecessary reunion trend the past few years, The Darkness reformed in 2011 with Justin forgoing the long blond locks and pasty skin for — appropriately — a carnival-barker look: short, dyed-black hair, handlebar mustache, and full-sleeve tattoos. Wait, was David Bowie, the original glam chameleon, an inspiration?)
But fans certainly held on to the notion, misguided or not, that The Darkness meant everything they sung, loved every outfit strutted out, enjoyed every accentuated power chord stomp. It's not like The Darkness is a cover band playing favorites everyone knows and loves — the songs are all originals — but often it feels that way. And if fans didn't believe in the band as a "real" entity back then, now reunited, perhaps they must.
Such confusion, however, was never an issue with Spinal Tap or Tenacious D. Tenacious D clearly set about to exploit the larger-than-life potential of a rock 'n' roll band. But ludicrous costumes replaced the zebra-striped unitards, and the lengthy guitar-on-knee solos were meant to instill laughs, not awe. Comic actor Jack Black's songs also were humor-packed, often so cynical it was hard to tell whether he meant it or not. Then the listener remembers, Black is a comedian first — comedy is the bottom line. Tenacious D was a good-natured send-up and well played.
The Tap was a rock 'n' roll parody from the get-go, a mockery of the time period from which The Darkness draws its influence. We could almost relate to, while laughing at, the foibles and failings of Spinal Tap — and we still do through timeless one-liners. Do people go to see The Darkness to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? Maybe they'll cover Spinal Tap?
Quickly, though, let's not entirely dismiss the band that Justin practically writes off as "just four men making loud music in a room." The Darkness are good at what they do, whatever the reason they do it.
Fans must still interested enough to spend a Saturday night at the Celebrity Theatre (which, as an "in-the-round" venue, plays perfectly to the self-grandeur and anything-goes 1970s rock climate, as in "Why just have a stage when I can have one that spins, too?"). Then The Darkness has found its place, some place, in the sun once more. Or maybe there just aren't any other paths to follow.
You get the feeling we'll never really know.