The Darkness

Even those sweater-wearing, ballad-loving, lower-lip-quivering pretty boys in Travis know it to be true: "All I want to do is rock," front man Fran Healy sang in an early single that didn't really. Yet on new albums by hairy American Andrew W.K. and hairy Brits the Darkness -- confirmed rockers with sweat stains to prove it -- the best, most convincing moments aren't the fist-pumping shout-alongs or the intimations of psychosexual prowess; they're the power ballads, the ones with moral and emotional uplift to accompany the six-string brawn.

Though it disappoints the epinephrine junkie in me, it's probably best that W.K. didn't try to outdo the bombast of last year's completely triumphant I Get Wet, since that would've meant drafting the army's marching band, a 10,000-piece choir or a nuclear bomb -- unwise expenditures in these economically lean, politically charged times. Still, I didn't know the white-denimed lug had such sweetness in him: In "Never Let Down," at a Stone Age amble probably the slowest thing he's recorded, he promises, "I never wanna break your heart," while a searing Top Gun solo does a flyby behind him; later, the possible Bernie Taupin co-write "Really in Love" finds W.K. noticing, "You live alone / And I do, too / I really, really, really, really want you."

Bespandexed glam-rock revivalists the Darkness front-load their Permission to Land (a bona fide hit in the UK) with "Get Your Hands Off My Woman," in which singer Justin Hawkins lets his falsetto flag fly every time he hits the chorus, punctuating the sentiment with an impressive "motherfucker." But they don't really cook until "Friday Night," a totally bouncy appeal to an old high school flame that includes admissions of "bridge club on Wednesday" and "archery on Thursday." And in "Love Is Only a Feeling," the lush misty-mountain acoustics illustrate Hawkins's description of "the state of elation that this unison of hearts achieved." These guys rock, but they roll over pretty easily, too.


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