British rock n’ rollers The Darkness quickly rose to stardom behind the massive success of their ubiquitous single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, a T. Rex-channeling glam rock stomper that brought pure headbanging adrenaline into the turn of the century. With their theatrical attire and over-the-top stage presence, The Darkness are focused only on celebrating the unadulterated frills of rock glory and hedonism, much like the bands (AC/DC, Van Halen, Def Leppard) whose influence can so easily be heard in their music. Sadly after the straight dopamine rush provided by “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” wanes and without much in the way of substance of musical diversity to offer, The Darkness’ narrowly focused shtick runs bland.
Tribal drumming and some elemental acoustic guitar introduce the opening track “Rock and Roll Deserves to Die”. In theory, it wouldn’t be too out of place on Led Zeppelin III (1970) – if it were a better song. With Justin Hawkins’ sudden falsetto acting as a rallying cry, the song shifts into some crystal clear glam metal riffage. All of this rolls into a bombastic big rock ending. The whole thing feels as if it could have been put together on the film This Is Spinal Tap with its unapologetic outrageousness. “How Can I Lose Your Love” ventures into some Boston-style rock balladry. Its anthem-like power pop chorus leaves breathing room for some acoustic strumming to be mixed in.
“Live ‘Til I Die” shifts things ever so slightly for The Darkness on the palm-muted heartland style rocker. Of all people to make a comparison to, it wouldn’t be too far off to cite John Mellencamp as an influence here. An acoustic-led bridge breaks up the more rock oriented passages of the song, which seems to be a repeating theme and an overused trick throughout the entirety of the album.
“Heart Explodes” kicks things off with grandiose snare sounds right out of 1987 and some arena crafter power chords. Vocally, this is one of the weakest performances for Hawkins who sounds so woefully dialled in. The track is full of outdated pomp and machismo. “I can’t believe I’m free to sleep with anyone who wants to sleep with me,” Hawkins sings without any sort of irony.
Fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will remember the prog rock parodies that Charlie Day would perform. “Deck Chair” sounds like one of those songs. With its clunky synths, choral arrangements and ominous sound affects, this track is overstuffed to the brim with overproduced clichés. “Easter is Cancelled” sounds very reminiscent to Toys in the Attic (1975) era Aerosmith, but with a half-cooked political take. Hawkins seems to imagine a more perfect world, one in which Jesus never died.
Like many tracks before and after it, “Heavy Metal Lover” uses an acoustic guitar to lead into more stereotypical rock sleaze. The painfully elementary and lazy writing here screams filler, something that quickly starts to feel routine. “In Another Life” features some sunny interlocking guitar work. It’s one of the more direct attempts by the band and a tender moment. The best that can be said about the track is that it is nice and pleasant, but it doesn’t inspire much more beyond that.
“Choke on It” is an overly aggressive and immature breakup song. Musically, at least, it veers a little out of their norm with some gritty, punk inspired guitars. “We Are the Guitar Men” is a campy tribute to the rockstar mythos. There are many corny lines on Easter is Cancelled, but none surpass “Give me a guitar – an extension of my soul.”
“Lay Low” is the folksiest number here. The band mixes things up with some jazzy bass holding the track up. Ultimately, however, the track ends up being virtually uneventful and lifeless. That transitions into “Different Eyes”, the most purely pop song on the record. It’s a straight sugar rush, although there isn’t much flavouring beyond that.
The album concludes on two entirely acoustic numbers. “Confirmation Bias” is the most bland of the two, with its schmaltzy exterior and syrupy string arrangements. “Sutton Hoo” is more classically inspired. Nylon strings run prominent underneath Hawkins’ operatic vocals.
The Darkness seem to have very few tricks up their sleeves – tricks that they try to hold an entire album down with. When all the pieces come together, they can write a timelessly fun anthem like “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, but that track proves to be the exception and not the rule. Easter is Cancelled is mostly filler and very little killer. The bands that The Darkness worship were not pushing boundaries intellectually or finding cutting ways to experiment. But unlike The Darkness, those sleazy hard rock bands had a fresh and unhinged glow about their music, as if they were the first to discover the ecstasy of rock and roll. Easter is Cancelled sounds like an outdated and uninteresting nosedive into bad memories. Even worse, The Darkness seem to be nostalgic for rock’s most egregious tendencies.