For a guy who makes every effort to play the role of bulletproof rock god, Justin Hawkins has remarkably thin skin.
Of course, you probably wouldn't know that based on his public persona: a carefully balanced amalgamation of Axl Rose's debauched dark side and Freddy Mercury's refined pomp. As the spandex-clad, siren-voiced frontman of British hair-metal enthusiasts the Darkness, Hawkins spends a good deal of time making headlines in his homeland. But lately he's become more than a bit annoyed by the amount of press he and his band have been getting regarding some rather unkind things they've allegedly said about Coldplay, U2, James Blunt and Babyshambles/ Libertines frontman Pete Doherty.
"It's all completely false, and all completely taken out of context. For example, some newspaper will call me up and say something like, 'Oh, what do you think of that James Blunt character? Bit of a dullard, isn't he?' " Hawkins sighed. "Then before you know it, there's a headline that says, 'Hawkins Slams "Dullard" Blunt.' And this kind of stuff just follows us around. Like just the other day, there was a quote by [drummer] Ed [Graham] that said he wanted to 'eat' Pete Doherty."
"And that's ridiculous," Graham deadpanned. "I mean, I'm not even a cannibal."
Such is life for the Darkness, who burst onto the U.K. music scene back in 2003 with Permission to Land, an over-the-top rock assault that spawned a slew of hits ("I Believe in a Thing Called Love," "Get Your Hands Off My Woman," "Growing on Me") and sold a shade under 700,000 copies in the States. Their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell ... and Back, hit shelves Tuesday and finds them further pursuing their own wing in rock and roll Valhalla. This time they're doing it not just with guitar pyrotechnics (though they're still in plentiful supply), but also with more theatrical, refined sounds. The band achieved its new approach thanks to producer Roy Thomas Baker, who cut his teeth on some of Queen's biggest hits, including "Bohemian Rhapsody."
"He was a refined man of many tastes and cultures. And he had a killer sense of humor, which is very important if you're going to be spending an inordinate amount of time in a room with someone," Hawkins laughed. "He and I enjoyed many seafood dinners, and we developed an unspoken method of communication. It was sort of like telekinesis, but even better."
The songs on One Way Ticket run the gamut from blasting rockers ("Hazel Eyes," "Is It Just Me?") to string-enhanced ballads smacking of high tea at an English estate ("English Country Garden"). There's a song about being embraced by a woman with "Dinner Lady Arms" — "You call them lunch-lady arms over here," Hawkins explained. "Those arms with flab hanging underneath them"). And there's no less than three songs about hair — mostly of the thinning variety.
"I think hair loss is a lot like death for most men, because it's much-feared and never fully explained," Hawkins said. "And when most men get ready in the morning, it's the first step in their grooming regiment. So frankly, I'm surprised that no one has written songs about [hair loss] already."
And with a brand-new album comes a brand-new tour, which in keeping with the Darkness' general largess can only be of the massive, jumbo-jet, globe-spanning variety. Hawkins wouldn't have it any other way.
"We kick off our world tour in February back home, and we plan on hitting every corner of the globe," he said. "We'll definitely do America, but we're also going to hit areas that most bands wouldn't do. We're going to play Southeast Asia. We're huge there. If you take a look at the population there, I think percentage-wise, most of them are Darkness fans."