Concerts

The Darkness Continues to Champion for Silly Rock 'n' Roll

The Darkness
The Darkness Photo by Simon Emmett
If there's one thing bassist Frankie Poullain thinks the world of rock 'n' roll is severely lacking, it's more silliness. And for the past two decades his band, the Darkness, has striven to fill that void.

Since the year 2000, the British band has tried to occupy that niche by behaving as childishly as possible while delivering hard-rocking operatic glam anthems and maintaining a straight face.

"AC/DC was an example of great childish rock," Poullain tells New Times over Zoom. "Their lyrics are adolescent, taking you back to when your hormones make you incredibly stupid. Having Angus Young dress as a schoolboy made it so special."

But it was a very different 1970s band that made Poullain take up music.

"I heard the Carpenters in the back of my mom's car," he says. "She was a single mom who'd drive us in a rickety car, and I heard, I think it was 'Superstar.' It was a mixture of twee and cosmic."

Several years later, Poullain picked up the bass guitar, he says, because "I didn't have the technique to play much else."

Still, he fits in perfectly with the ethos of brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins (lead vocalist and guitarist, respectively).

"A band is a composite of personalities," he explains. "The classic four-piece makes up for each other's limitations. It was all about sacrificing your ego for the greater part of the band."

The Darkness rebelled against rock music that took itself too seriously.

"The worst thing about the '90s and grunge was rock grew up. Seventies rock 'n' roll was childish," Poullain says.

On the back of the bombastically yet silly breakthrough single, 2003's "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," the Darkness blew up in its native England. But the lines between mocking and living the rock 'n' roll excess blurred with Pouillain leaving the band in 2005; the Darkness broke up shortly thereafter.

"The first album was such a high. The high became too much with all the drugs and alcohol," Poullain reflects. "Everything became sour and toxic. Things unraveled, first with me, then with Justin. There was too much money and not enough vision and discipline to withstand it."

Nevertheless, the band remains proud of its debut album, Permission to Land.

"You can hear the good times in the album. You can't fake feel-good albums," Poullain says. "Well, you can fake it, but then it sounds like Maroon 5, which is a crime against humanity."

When the band reunited in 2011, the members decided to attack the music with the same hard-rock mayhem — but with a little more composure off stage.

"We have more control now, and we have complete artistic freedom.," he says. "You don't always get second chances. Now we're encouraged to be as anarchic as we want to be."

Poullain believes the Darkness' latest record, Motorheart, fits into that sweet spot. The name came when Poullain first heard the backing tracks of the title song.

"It reminded me of Motörhead meets that Heart song 'Barracuda,'" he says, though he makes clear it's not a tribute to Lemmy, the Motörhead lead singer who died in 2015. "We play with the iconography of Lemmy, but it's not macho like his music."

For Poullain, the stage is where the Darkness' silliness shines through. South Floridians can see it for themselves when the band stops at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on April 13.

"We're capable of tapping into collective euphoria. We don't dumb things down," Poullain says. "The songs are still emotionally vulnerable, but there's something celebratory about what we do."

Asked to provide an example of the band's signature silliness, Poullain cites a recent appearance on a British TV show: "Justin was going to wear a catsuit, but the TV show said he'd have to wear a T-shirt underneath to cover his nipples. So instead he'll wear tassels over his nipples."

The Darkness. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; cultureroom.net. Tickets cost $28 via ticketmaster.com.
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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland