I can pinpoint the moment I fell in love with Permission To Land, which, weirdly, came before it was released or before I would actually get to hear the whole thing.
Let me explain.
It was Friday 4th July 2003. I was at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall for a rock show performed by one Alice Cooper. However, before I got to watch the Wayne’s World star cut his own head off, play with his snake (stop sniggering) and everything else, there was the matter of the support band to watch.
That band came from Lowestoft. They were called The Darkness. And, to be blunt, they stole the show.
Like most people in the room I was familiar with their most recent single ‘Growing On Me’, a song that had, well, grown on me enormously.
Throw that into a quite brilliant live show that was packed full of the biggest songs I’d ever heard and which culminated in Justin Hawkins being carried through the crowd on his roadie’s shoulders while shredding a guitar solo, and I was hooked.
That was three days before Permission To Land was released. Normally I would have be on it faster than a Brexiteer getting outraged on Twitter but, that Monday morning, I was on a coach to Cornwall for a Duke of Edinburgh expedition.
The thing is, though, I knew I loved those songs purely on the strength of hearing them live. So, when I got back to the Midlands a week later and finally got hold of the record, my first listen was not a voyage of discovery but merely confirmation of what I already knew: this was quite the album.
By the time school was back in session that September and mega single ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ was in daily rotation on the Sixth Form Centre’s hi-fi system, I was fully in.
I knew the album back-to-back – I’d downloaded all of the B-sides and knew those too – and I got extremely annoyed when everyone in the room would go too high, too early when they sang along.
You see, by then, The Darkness had gone stratospheric. They were the hot band and their appeal was almost universal. Who else could have supported both Robbie Williams and Metallica? (Not on the same bill though, sadly.)
Come December and with it the band’s headline UK tour and stint at bagging the Christmas number one, the Sixth Form Centre had moved on, but I hadn’t. Permission To Land was still my jam and I spent every minute of my weekly guitar lessons learning songs from it.
So, what of it in 2019? Can I honestly say I’ve cared about anything The Darkness has done since they first split in the mid-noughties and then reformed a few years later? No.
Well, it was nice to get to photograph them, but musically? Nope. Can I even say I’ve listened to Permission To Land at any point in the last five years? Probably not.
Does it still have a special place in my heart? You bet.
It’s almost become a cliché to say that this record sounds like a greatest hits album. But, the thing is, it does. It did then and it still does now.
The production still sounds magnificent. The sheer joy and Britishness that ran through this record like jam in a Victoria sponge is still there and the songs are still glorious.
It’s an absolute riot.
The reason this album sounds like a greatest hits record is because it never goes lower than a 9/10, and even that is a rarity. Final song ‘Holding On My Own’ is probably a nine. But everything else? Pure tens, baby.
Let’s go through it, shall we? We kick off with ‘Black Shuck’, the greatest song about a mythical, killer Norfolk dog that has ever been committed to tape, before a quadruple punch of hit singles: ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’, ‘Growing On Me’, ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ and ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’.
Banger, banger, banger, banger. And 100 million Spotify streams between them.
But, arguably, the real magic on this record is in its second half. ‘Givin’ Up’ was a foreshadow to the addiction problems that would hit singer Justin Hawkins a few years later.
‘Stuck In A Rut’ is an anthem for anyone wanting to break the mould and ‘Friday Night’ encompasses the kind of Britain I want to live in, a Britain built on extra-extra-curricular activities, not the shambles we call home in 2019.
And then, the jewel in the crown. ‘Love On The Rocks With No Ice’. A bone-crushing, stomp-heavy riff and the kind of chorus some bands could spend an entire career trying and failing to write, casually tucked away as the penultimate song on The Darkness’ debut record. It floored me in 2003 and it still does now.
And that’s without talking about those B-sides I mentioned. Remember when bands made B-sides?
The Darkness made great B-sides. Instrumental ‘Bareback’ was their live show opener on the Permission To Land tour and remains one of my favourites now.
‘Makin’ Out’, ‘Physical Sex’, ‘The Best Of Me’, ‘How Dare You Call This Love’ and ‘Out Of My Hands’ don’t quite work as well as the rest of the album now, although they’re still worth a listen.
Permission To Land holds up in 2019 because it is quality, simple as.
It captured a moment, sure, but has somehow remained ageless. Its very clear two-sided structure – four songs, ballad, repeat – meant it was ready and waiting for the recent vinyl revival, and it still sounds like a greatest hits album.
But, most of all, it’s made up of ten outstanding rock songs that do the business now as much as they did then.
What’s not to love about that?
Permission To Land came out in 2003 on Warner Music.