Sunday, July 19, 2009
Early Review: Hot Leg - Red Light Fever
Justin Hawkins is back with a vengeance.
He’s perhaps better known as the flamboyant and catsuit-clad frontman for defunct arena rock group The Darkness, and he’s got a new band: Hot Leg.
Hot Leg is Hawkins, guitarist Pete Rinaldi, bassist Samuel “SJ” Stokes, and drummer Darby Todd. The group released its debut album earlier this year, with the appropriately over-the-top title Red Light Fever, and is now touring to promote it.
Too bad it’s only available in northern Europe.
Hot Leg hasn’t secured distribution for the album outside the U.K. and Scandinavia, which means Hawkins’ remaining fans in the U.S. are still waiting.
Some Darkness backstory: the group was a Spinal Tap-esque mixture of massive hard rock hooks and rockstar-cliché silliness. The group recorded its debut album for a British indie record company before Atlantic Records picked it up. Permission to Land, shoddily mixed and recorded on a tight budget, went on to sell 3.5 million copies.
However, an expensively produced second album (One Way Ticket to Hell... And Back) failed to perform to expectations. The Darkness had achieved popularity in the United States and superstardom in the U.K., but it was all for naught.
Meanwhile, Hawkins embraced the hard rock excess that his band appeared to be parodying, consuming massive amounts of cocaine and alcohol. Indications are that he snorted most of his Darkness earnings. Supposedly, he and his bandmates are sleeping on floors while touring.
Why is all this worth mentioning? Because it helps explain the way Red Light Fever sounds. Hawkins’ larger-than-life persona only serves to make his music more fun.
Sue Whitehouse, Hawkins’ ex-girlfriend and The Darkness’ former manager (the Spinal Tap similarities are almost infinite) told SPIN magazine that Hawkins wrote many of these songs during the glory days of The Darkness.
And Red Light Fever could easily be a new Darkness album. Not to diminish the roles of his past and current bandmates, but the axe-slinging and larynx-shredding Hawkins owns every song.
Hot Leg stuffs every track with hair metal guitar riffs, thunderous drums and vocal harmonies that bounce off the very top of the human hearing range. There's one obvious standout, and it's the album's first single. “I’ve Met Jesus” is a blistering sumbitch of a jam. The chorus doesn’t even rhyme, but it’s a hook that drills straight into the pleasure center of your brain. Good luck shaking it.
“Trojan Guitar” is a holdover from the pompous bloat of One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back. It clocks in at over five minutes, and with loud-soft dynamics and heroic multiple-voiced dialogue, it’s essentially an update of “’39” from Queen’s classic A Night at the Opera.
Hawkins takes the cheese a little too far with “Gay in the 80s,” which could be an Electric Six song if Dick Valentine’s vocal dexterity suddenly quadrupled. He makes chicken noises on “Chickens” and emphasizes the “cock” in the chorus of “Cocktails.” All in all, it’s par for the course.
Only the sourest, most steadfastly serious Nickelback fan could manage to hold back a smile for Red Light Fever’s entire 35 minutes. What’s wrong with having giddy fun while listening to an album?
The Darkness is no more, but Hot Leg is definitely its spiritual successor. If the band’s debut is a mission statement, the newly sober Hawkins only intends to push the limits of musical absurdity to towering new heights. The world is better for it.
HIPNESS RATING: 3 out of 10
ACTUAL RATING: 8 out of 10