Circa 2003, The Darkness were well on their way to being the biggest band in the world. The throwback rockers based in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, were set to conquer the music scene thanks to a combination of muscular ’70s guitar riffs, gloriously histrionic ’80s camp, and the ubiquity of their falsetto-drenched hit single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”
Fifteen years later, they’re far removed from those halcyon days, having gone from headlining international rock festivals with six-figure audiences to, say, the 850-capacity The Grand @ The Complex this Friday night in Salt Lake City as part of their “Tour de Prance.” Curiously, though, the band doesn’t seem particularly perturbed.
“You know, we’re a cult band now, but maybe that’s what we should have been all along,” Scottish bassist Frankie Poullain noted with introspection in a phone interview with The Tribune. “The most important thing is to be empowered, and to be proud of what you do, and to be in control of your destiny.”
The Darkness are, at the very least, all three of those now.
After all, that they’re even still around anymore is something of an accomplishment.
Their descent from the top and their demise at the fangs of the three-headed Cerberus of cocaine, alcohol and infighting proved swift. Poullain left the group in 2005 in the midst of crafting their ill-fated sophomore album when his arguments with frontman Justin Hawkins saw him come out on the wrong end of a me-or-him ultimatum issued by the singer.
Then in 2006, The Darkness would go dormant entirely when Hawkins checked into rehab on account of substance abuse.
Some five years later, with heads now cooler and their excesses less excessive, conversations about a reunion were met with enthusiasm by all four original members, hatchets were removed from backs and subsequently buried, and a comeback album created.
Poullain said the decision to reconvene with people he’d had bitter battles with just half a decade prior was, nevertheless, an easy one.
“You remember what it was all about, and why you started a band in the first place, why you got on with these people and had a chemistry with these people. It was sad that things became soured — sad, predictable and stupid, really,” he said. “So it was an opportunity to go back in time, to take the same situation to a different conclusion. It was a no-brainer. To have an opportunity to do that in life is not really common, is it? … It’s like a parallel universe, like a simulation of reality. It seems strange that this band had another opportunity to do it again.”
They’re making the most of it.
While their world-conquering days are past (though no one apparently told Taylor Swift for her Apple Music ad a few years back), they’re still embracing doing what they can, including making concessions to change in the three albums they’ve released since their reunion.
After describing himself as “a bass player with no sense of rhythm” in his 2008 memoir/comedic self-help guide “Dancing in The Darkness,” Poullain unapologetically attributed that mostly to overindulging in the “fruits” of his labors — “We used to drink quite a bit back then, shots and drinking vodka … extracurricular activities. But that’s proper rock ’n’ roll bands are supposed to do, isn’t it?” — but acknowledged The Darkness bring a highly professional approach to performing these days.
Meanwhile, he added, Hawkins has proven “a bit more open to suggestions” now, which has coincided nicely with the addition of Rufus Taylor to the lineup. The son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor provided not only a reliable beat in the recording of their 2017 album, “Pinewood Smile,” but also “youthful irreverence, golden energy [and] a very mischievous sense of humor” in songwriting and singing contributions, as well.
What hasn’t changed is their over-the-top style.
The high-pitched delivery, the bawdy and risqué (and sometimes simply ridiculous) subject matter, the go-for-broke attitude — all those things that prompted critics to label The Darkness a “joke band” over the years — are all permanent fixtures.
“We bring a certain amount of humor and irreverence to the table, which people then mistake for silliness. I think people generally take themselves too seriously,” Poullain said. “Once you’ve done the song, and you’ve put your heart and soul into it, why present it with such sincerity and reverence? Surely, once you’ve done the hard bit, creating the material, why can’t you enjoy it and have some fun with it?”
“Have some fun” seems as good a mantra as any for The Darkness and their fans these days.
Those in attendance Friday can plan on it, according to Poullain.
“They can expect something English, eccentric — English rock ’n’ roll, I guess, is slightly more effeminate. … But maybe it takes a real man to wear a pink-and-white-striped catsuit!” he said with a laugh, referencing Hawkins’ oft-preferred stage attire. “I think rock ’n’ roll is equal parts masculine and feminine, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious, so it seems a shame to cut off all the feminine side of things. You lose that whole strutting peacock kind of thing, don’t you?”
And that, it turns out, would be far worse than missing out on conquering the charts.