But what if there’s a parallel universe where none of that is happening? One where, 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ used his super-powers to break free of his cross and change the course of everything? One where the arseclowns didn’t end up running the show? One where that doomed romance didn’t fail? One where rock’n’roll lives forever?
That’s exactly what The Darkness are asking on their magnificent new album Easter Is Cancelled – the greatest quasi-sci-fi-concept opus about an alternate reality superhero Jesus, the dissolution of love, and the death and resurrection of rock’n’roll you’ll hear this year or any other.
“We had one mission on this album,” says singer and guitarist Justin Hawkins. “Go big or go home. Musically, lyrically, everything. So we went big. Very big. As big as we possibly could.”
Easter Is Cancelled is fuelled by the same grand ambition that has defined the band since they exploded into the public consciousness with their debut Permission To Land in 2003. The fact that it’s a concept album shouldn’t be surprise. The only surprise is that it’s taken them so long to get around to making one.
“We’ve been thinking about doing a concept album for a while,” says bassist Frankie Poullain. “Or a musical. This has elements of both. It has a sense of the exaggerated, which all Darkness material has. But there’s also a real emotion to it.”
“This is an album about love, laughter and heartache,” says Justin. “They’re the three elements. In fact if you were to draw a pie chart, it would be exactly a third each.”
Like all masterpieces, Easter Is Cancelled is the product of a mix of genius, inspiration and plenty of perspiration. It was produced by guitarist Dan Hawkins and recorded at his studio in West Sussex. The whole process took eight months and found the band writing and rewriting songs until they gleamed. They abandoned countless completed tracks along the way to make the perfect album. But that’s the point of perfection: it shouldn’t be easy.
“We want people to get that feeling where you put on an album and you get lost in it,” says Dan, “We want people to pore over it.”
“We didn’t want there to be any moments where people drifted away,” adds drummer Rufus ‘Tiger’ Taylor. “We threw away tracks that we’d actually completed because they weren’t good enough.”
At the centre of Easter Is Cancelled is the idea of Multiverse Theory – the mind-bending concept that there are an infinite number of parallel universes, and that every single thing that could happen has happened or is happening somewhere in one of them. It runs through the lyrics of the 10 songs, offering up an alternate reality where things are turning out very differently.
“I love Multiverse Theory,” says Justin. “I’m comforted by the possibility of anything and everything happening. So there’s an inverse universe where Jesus has used his superpowers to fight back. And if you ever address the impact of any sort of event in your own life, you must be considering what happened if that hadn’t been the case, just by definition. That could be something you did, something you said, or someone you fell in or out of love with.”
In this particular universe, the title Easter Is Cancelled came about after Justin was asked if he wanted to publish a book of lyrics in time for Christmas. He missed that window but decided he could deliver it in time for Easter and wrote a poem to mark the occasion.
“The poem I wrote was shit,” he says. “Our manager emailed me back and just said: ‘Easter is cancelled.’ I thought, ‘That’s the album title!’ And the very next thing I thought was, ‘Buff Jesus!’”
Those two words – “Buff Jesus” – sparked off the concept for the album’s striking cover. It features said messiah snapping the crossbar from the wooden crucifix and breaking free.
“I love the idea of a Jesus who refuses to be crucified and uses his powers to break the cross,” says Justin. “It’s purely coincidence that Jesus looks like me. And that there’s three Marys who resemble the other members of the band who are fighting with him.”
“It’s also saying, ‘Let’s stop crucifying people,’” says Frankie. “If you look back though history, there are so many great men and women who have stood for anti-authoritarianism and were crucified for it. Jesus breaking the cross – I can’t think of anything more anti-authoritarian than that. Rock’n’roll was anti-authoritarian. But it’s not anymore. It’s been swallowed up in the machine. And rock’n’roll deserves to die.”
Ah, the death of rock’n’roll – one of the album’s main themes. This contentious subject is tackled head-on on opening track ‘Rock And Roll Deserves To Die’, an exhilarating, kaleidoscopic mini-rock opera which swings from bucolic folk to heads-down riffing and finds the band threatening to drive a stake through the heart of the whole genre. The Darkness love rock’n’roll. But right now, rock’n’roll is doing itself no favours.
“We were looking at a video of a newish rock band who I’m not going to name, and it was just cliché after cliché,” says Dan Hawkins of the inspiration for the song. “They’d managed to create a video that had so little charm it was almost inspiring. I just went, ‘Rock and roll deserves to die.’”
“A lot of bands have relinquished their duty,” adds Frankie. “Rock and roll is so uniform now. Everybody dresses the same, looks the same, sounds the same. It’s pathetic. It deserves to die. Let’s kill the cliché. Let’s break the crucifix. That’s partly what the album is about.”
Easter Is Cancelled is anything but clichéd. Across its 10 songs, it runs the gamut of sounds and styles, from the sparkling, arena-ready rock of ‘Live Til I Die’ and ‘In Another Life’ to the seething sonic assault of the title track or the furious, almost punky snarl of ‘Choke On It’. The latter of which contains a cheeky nod to a certain now-defunct Manchester band. “There’s nothing wrong with a little Oasis attitude,” says Justin with a grin.
Most remarkable is the jazzy ‘Deck Chair’ – a song that sounds like nothing The Darkness have done before. It finds Justin lamenting the loss of the titular item of furniture on a childhood family holiday.
“It’s literally about a deck chair,” he says. “But it’s also allegorical. It’s about losing somebody as well as something.”
Indeed, the sense of personal turmoil is inescapable on Easter Is Cancelled. As with all of the best songs of The Darkness, there’s a deeper emotion beneath the surface. It’s there in the titles: ‘How Can I Lose Your Love’, ‘Heart Explodes’… titles with a tang of heartbreak that come from the personal experience of more than one band member.
“We’re uniting all these emotions that come from a similar place,” says Frankie, “The hardships you go through as a band, as people, the struggles for survival, the struggles you have with relationships, what’s happened to rock’n’roll.”
“The difference between The Darkness’ sadness and other bands’ sadness is that we don’t wallow in it,” says Dan, “Even when it’s sad, there’s a playfulness to it.”
Like all great concept albums, Easter Is Cancelled is ultimately a journey, one with a beginning, middle and an end. The latter takes the form of anthemic closing track ‘We Are The Guitar Men’, a heartfelt love letter to rock’n’roll that suggests that there’s still life in it, which is still worth fighting for. “We are the guitar men,” sings Justin. “Long live rock’n’roll.”
“Oh, we still believe in it,” says the singer, “That’s why we’re angry about it.”
Frankie: “We’re laying down the gauntlet to other bands. But we’re laying down the gauntlet to ourselves as well.”
That extends to The Darkness’ plans for touring the album. The idea is to go out there and present the album’s ten tracks as they are. No apologies, no bullshit.
“It’s good to have a bit of bollocks about what you do,” says Dan. “If you go out there with the same fucking nostalgia show every single time, you may as well give up.”
Easter Is Cancelled proves that The Darkness are a long way from giving up. It follows 2017’s acclaimed Pinewood Smile, which deservedly put them back in the UK Top 10 – a feat most contemporary rock bands would sell at least one functioning limb to achieve.
“I think our continued existence pisses some people off,” says Justin. “That makes me happy. But pissing people off isn’t why we’re here. We’re here because rock’n’roll needs to step up. And we’re the ones making sure it does.”