Looking back to 2003, the one album that should have been guaranteed an early grave was The Darkness’ Permission To Land. This was a time when the US modern rock charts were flooded with a very milky and flavourless strain of hard rock, dispensed by the likes of Staind, Trapt, Chevelle and Nickelback, while the dreaded indie landfill scene was kicking into high gear in the UK. Along came this band from Lowestoft — singer and guitarist Justin Hawkins, his brother Dan on lead and rhythm guitar, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham — wearing bloody catsuits and treating their newfound fame with all of the restraint of Keith Moon at an open bar. Justin’s falsetto — piercing, hyperdramatic and unrelenting — left both critics and fans trying to work out whether The Darkness were serious or if it was all some elaborate satire where the band were the only ones clued in to the joke.
Speculation fell to the wayside when their debut dropped. Released on July 7, 2003, its seismic power was beyond question. A flamethrowing fusion of 70s glam, 80s power metal and the sleazy boogie of AC/DC, Permission To Land dropped bangers in between bangers. From the hurricane force of Get Your Hands Off My Woman and Black Shuck to the perfect pop stylings of I Believe In A Thing Called Love to the deeply-literal power ballad, Love Is Only A Feeling, Permission To Land offered an exhilarating and supremely fun alternative to all of the angst and introspection clogging up the rock charts. They wouldn’t be pigeonholed and they certainly wouldn’t be stopped. Permission To Land scooped up awards by the truckload, launched the band onto the world’s biggest stages and made The Darkness a household name. Here are ten behind-the-scenes facts about Permission To Land.
The Darkness assumed that nobody would be interested in their sound
Speaking to Classic Rock in 2022, Justin Hawkins admitted that The Darkness understood that the music they were producing felt wholly incompatible with what was popular at the time. Describing the album’s mainstream-slaying success, Justin said, “I was surprised, shocked, startled. This is my first band as a singer. The kind of music we were playing was us going: 'Well, fuck it, if we’re not going to make it we might as well be playing music that we actually enjoy instead of trying to do this fucking indie stuff that everybody’s listening to.'"
The band had accumulated forty-eight songs for the album
Settling on a final tracklist is often an agonising and occasionally-polarising exercise for bands who have spent countless hours writing, rehearsing and recording a significant number of songs, only to have room for ten or so. The Darkness accumulated a jaw-dropping forty-eight tracks in the album’s two-week recording session, but winnowing the list down proved relatively easy — by never writing anything down, they ensured that they would only remember the catchiest tracks. Recalling the furious pace at that time, Justin told the Independent: “My favourite albums are recorded as quickly as possible, so you get a chronological indication of where the band were at, at that particular moment."
Lyrically, they didn’t look very far for inspiration
Growing up in the British coastal town of Lowestoft, they drew from local lore for lyrical inspiration. Black Shuck, for example, was inspired by a mythical (we hope), murderous black hound that roamed the East Anglian countryside in the sixteenth century. Folklore holds that it burst through the doors of a church and killed two people kneeling in prayer while lightning crashed above. In the run up to the album’s release, Justin explained, “One of our songs is about an East Anglian hellhound with a red eye who attacked a church. Haha! The chorus goes ‘Black Shuck that don't give a fuck..." Also, one of the B-sides to Love Is Only A Feeling is The Curse Of The Tollund Man, about which Justin said, “No one knows anything about him, so we speculate what happened to him...I sort of say it’s like the curse of the Egyptian pharaohs when they get dug up – the same sort of thing happened to the people that dug up the Tollund man. Well that’s what I say in my song anyway."
They intended I Believe In A Thing Called Love to be “the stupidest song ever”
The song has enjoyed Midas-like commercial success and continues to appear on “Best of” polls across the planet. This was not the band's intended aim, however. Speaking to the Guardian, Dan described the song’s origins, stating, “We were having a conversation along the lines of: 'Why don't we just write the stupidest song ever?" With the brief in mind, they set to work and came up with a wild, over-the-top chord progression that Dan assumed would never see the light of day. “I expected us all to feel embarrassed playing it,” he said, “But everyone was singing along to the chorus the second time it came around. We looked at each other and thought: 'This is it. It's staying.' I was like: 'Oh fuck. It's staying.’"
Labels just weren’t interested in the band
Permission To Land was a meteoric commercial success, going 4X platinum in the UK and receiving platinum and gold certifications all over the world. It won Best British Album at the 2004 Brits as well as the Best British Group and Best British Rock Act awards. In a 2005 interview, Sony Music UK executive Nick Raphael said, “One artist I wanted to sign but who unfortunately went to Atlantic Records were the Darkness, about three years ago. There couldn’t have been less of a buzz, and only two record labels showed any interest in them. The business as a whole thought they were uncool. In fact, people were saying that they were a joke and that they weren’t real.”
Justin has never asked anyone to get their hands off of his woman
Asked by the Chicago Tribune if he had ever actually said that iconic phrase in real life, Justin admitted, “I've never said that in real life. [I've only] thought it. [I'm glad] to have the opportunity to write a song to express it. That's the kind of guy I am, passive-aggressive.”
In the video for I Believe In A Thing Called Love, the crab is a metaphor for cocaine
In the video for I Believe In A Thing Called Love, a massive crab pops up behind Justin and throws a boulder at him. This, Justin explained, was an inside joke. "The crab that features in the music video meant something to the band,” he said. “It was a reference to when you've taken lots of cocaine and your eyes are basically on stalks. It has appeared on numerous occasions throughout our career. We've always had an affinity with sea creatures, possibly because we're from Lowestoft in Suffolk."
The band’s involvement in the album's artwork bordered on obsessive
On stage and in interviews, The Darkness carry on with playful irreverence, but when it comes to their album covers, they are all business. Sleeve designer Bruce Brand was called in to take the project on with relatively short notice. He met up with the lads in a North London boozer to hear their idea. Speaking to Classic Rock, Brand recalled, “They wanted a classic 70s-style sleeve – like ELO or something. After I’d taken all the bits and pieces off them I was in constant email contact with Justin [Hawkins, former frontman], who was like the art director, I suppose. I’d get these calls from him at three in the morning, saying: ‘We’ve decided we want the inside of the spaceship to have wood panelling – tongue and groove. That’s what the inside of spaceships look like.’ And I was like [sarcastically] ‘Er, okay, I’ll do that now, shall I?’” Eventually, the front cover — depicting a naked blonde woman flagging an alien ship onto a runway — was completed.
Justin never listens to the album
In 2015, Justin acknowledged: “I’m very fond of that album, but I don’t listen to it. I think the first album is quite scratchy in terms of the sound in places, and it’s super luxurious in other places. It’s a document that captured a moment in time, so I don’t listen to it anymore because I don’t really think about that time so much. I did listen to a couple of songs recently, and there was some stuff on there that we didn’t even recognize! Haha, It’s been so long. But we still love playing those songs live."
Out of all of the awards and commercial certifications, one towered above all others in terms of importance
“The biggest highlight had to be winning an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting,” said Justin to Classic Rock. “We had our parents there and everything. It was mental. There were paparazzi photographers outside and the lights were blinding. We were trying to get in the van, and we sped off as quickly as possible, but we’d left our parents behind so we had to go back and get them. Commenting on the award at the time, Justin said, "This is the biggest award you can get if you write your own songs. We have always wanted something like this but didn't expect to be in this position now. Now we've got here we're not going to let it go. This is wonderful."