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The Darkness and the woes of revivalist one-hit wonders

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A decade ago, the British glam-rock wastrels The Darkness lodged the flagrant and falsetto refrain of "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" into the minds of a few million listeners on multiple continents.

Good for them: They went platinum several times, supported Metallica on tour and raked in mounds of awards and attention. They also set the potential terms of their own curse—to soon be dismissed as one-hit wonders, or to never be taken seriously as a rock band again, or—worst and as it actually occurred—some strange and damning combination of both.

"I Believe in a Thing Called Love" was meant to be a hit: It's a swaggering, cocksure anthem that's also romantic and cute, pushing the gusto of Led Zeppelin and T. Rex even as it sweetly assures its object of uncloaked lust that "there's a chance we could make it now." Released in 2003 but ricocheting up the charts in 2004, "Love" resonated with listeners who'd missed such triumphant rock 'n' roll machismo on their FM dial. In 2003 and 2004, the tops of the Billboard charts belonged to artists including Usher and Lil Jon, 50 Cent and Beyoncé, with rock's emissaries being bottom-feeders such as 3 Doors Down and Hoobastank. But with his high notes, The Darkness' Justin Hawkins offered a welcome shriek of nostalgic air.

But in pop culture, is there anything more predictable than a revivalist act that lands a song or two on the radio, only to soon be washed away by changing whims and trends? Bands who aren't only hawking updated versions of the past have options after their first few hits land big; they can adjust their sound by picking up new influences or trying a different look, going acoustic or electronic. Jack White is one of the few recent pop stars with the ability to work both forward and backward, unequivocally mining the past for something fresh. But bands like The Darkness and their vintage-coiffed peers of that moment, Jet, are expected to deliver only one thing—big, dumb hits with the hooks and looks of yore. The same logic applies to swing sets such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers or The Cherry Poppin' Daddies; the rut that made you rich is the same rut in which you will eventually be buried.

So The Darkness lived out the predictable rock 'n' roll pathway, just not musically: The sudden stars returned to the studio to record their second album, the very expensive, awfully slick and relatively unproductive One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back. With the pressure of failure mounting, The Darkness didn't make it to a third album, though they tried. Hawkins went to rehabilitation for drugs, came out clean and quit the band. He started a new group, as did the rest of The Darkness, before getting the band back together in 2011 for a string of shows. The next year, they recorded and released a somewhat sloppy and generally irrepressible single, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us."

A pop-punk tune dressed in arena rock glory, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" became the second stop on a new album full of infectious bursts that were smart and stupid enough to push The Darkness back toward FM glory. Of course, that didn't happen, and mostly no one cared: Stateside, Hot Cakes sold just more than 9,000 copies in its first week, barely breaking the Top 50 of the Billboard 200. In an era when pop stars approach 100 million Facebook fans, The Darkness currently sits around 240,000.

By now, after all, the quartet has become '00s ephemera. No matter how well Hot Cakes recaptures and reasserts the charisma that made people love them a decade before, The Darkness are now only a relic of a previous moment.

They have capitalized on a revival once. Why reheat expired nostalgia when there's always something new to remember?

This article appeared in print with the headline "Demons of light."

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