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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Over-exposing 'The Darknesss'

By Jonathan Graef
Opinion Editor


Friday, March 5, 2004

I will begin by expressing a universal, though perhaps not acknowledged, truth amongst music geeks and connoisseurs: the more unknown a band is, the more obscure they are, the cooler they are.This is not to say that the quality of music from these obscure groups doesn't matter, as long as they are unknown to the masses. Far from it. Undoubtedly, there are groups that deserve to wallow in obscurity, for whatever reason. But, for every one band that is deservedly forgotten, there are about 10 or 20 that are unjustly unknown.

Music geeks, in their quest to find different and exciting music, which is the total opposite of what is being played on the radio, listen to groups playing music that has been out of fashion for a long time. Most people would refer to these groups as being "retro," but I hate that word. Music is supposed to be timeless, and the best music often is. Therefore, it would make sense that there will always be bands that build on sounds of the past. The thing to take into consideration is whether or not the mainstream is paying attention.

Enter The Darkness. They are a rock group from the United Kingdom. They recently won three out of the four Brit, awards (the British equivalent of the Grammys). Their debut album, "Permission to Land," has gone quadruple platinum in the United Kingdom -- which means that roughly one out of every 100 British citizens has a copy of the record.

Here is an image to describe their music: Picture AC/DC having a baby with Queen. Then, the aforementioned baby's head pops off and starts singing Cheap Trick songs. That gives you The Darkness. With these influences, it's no surprise that The Darkness (until recently) weren't cool. When was the last time a modern group sounded like either AC/DC or Queen?

And yet, it is because of the fact that The Darkness is not cool, that they are cool to music geeks. They play in a style of music that hasn't been in fashion for at least a decade, if not two. Furthermore, their singer, Justin Hawkins, wears tight-fitting leopard cat suits that leave little to the imagination (shudder), and sings in a falsetto that makes Freddie Mercury sound like Barry White. A combination like this is a music nerd's greatest dream. When the radio plays dire and drab bands like Linkin Park and Evanescence, The Darkness represent the end to the quest to find the complete opposite of what is popular.

But something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. The Darkness is becoming popular. Last week, "Permission to Land" was number 48 on the Billboard 200, and the first single, "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" is number 11 on the Modern Rock chart. How could this happen? How could Creed and Blink-182 fans start listening to a band whose song "Givin' Up" is the merriest melody about heroin addiction ever written?

It's simple: "Permission to Land" is an outstanding rock record. What makes it even greater and more distinctive in the landscape of rock is that it's funny. The Darkness realizes that some of the greatest rock ever created has also been some of the most ridiculous; in an interesting paradox, a lot of terrific and influential rock bands are sincere almost to the point of self-parody. As a result of this affection for the absurd, the first song on "Permission to Land" is about a one-eyed dog that terrorizes priests in a medieval village ("Black Shuck"); another song may or may not be about genital warts ("Growing on Me"); another describes un-cool extra-curricular activities such as needlework, badminton and archery ("Friday Night").

It is inevitable that people will like this album. Music geeks picture a TRL apocalypse, with people wearing Jessica Simpson shirts yelling "I wanna pick The Darkness' 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love' cuz I too believe in a thing called love WOO!" The bands' tongue-in-cheek videos will become lame. The incredibly catchy songs will become annoying. Even the cat suits will become unnecessary and gratuitous, instead of alluringly and deliciously over-the-top.

Geeks can't say they didn't see it coming. The Darkness absolutely deserves any success that comes their way. But, they will also become overexposed. Because of this, the best band in the world will become the worst. It's just a matter of when. This is not to say that the quality of music from these obscure groups doesn't matter, as long as they are unknown to the masses. Far from it. Undoubtedly, there are groups that deserve to wallow in obscurity, for whatever reason. But, for every one band that is deservedly forgotten, there are about 10 or 20 that are unjustly unknown.





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