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Third time around provides a few moments of clarity

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In the current landscape of rock ‘n’ roll, where most new bands are a hybrid of many different styles and influences, it’s good to know there’s a band that knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be.

England’s The Darkness has been true to its sound for nearly a decade. Of course, that sound was not invented by the band or unique to it, either: It’s basically a flashback to glam metal, but The Darkness hasn’t changed the recipe — and staying true should count for something, right?

With its third studio album, Hot Cakes (Wind-up), The Darkness is looking to keep its good times rolling on, but will the band get serious in an effort to keep its career moving forward?

The album kicks off with some expected moxie — that is, before the lyrics sung by lead wailer Justin Hawkins ruin the wicked riff by guitarist Dan Hawkins, his brother. The ensuing tune “Every Inch of You” is an exercise in self-indulgence that is meant to reintroduce us to the lead-singer character Justin portrays. The music underneath his boasting (about sleeveless shirts and groupie love) is full of swagger that harkens back to the ’70s glam era that inspired the bands that in turn inspired The Darkness. Maybe if the Hawkins-led bunch had written more clever lyrics instead of cliched drivel, the end result would be more memorable.

“Keep Me Hangin’ On,” which features a catchy refrain, is memorable; if only the whole album was like this track. But on every other song, there’s more unnecessary screeching and dated lyrics that might have made the guys in Firehouse cringe.

Halfway through the album comes the low point: In “Everybody Have a Good Time,” the band wants listeners to follow the message of the chorus. That means no fighting, no time for fuss and a bunch of groovy ideas about how to keep the peace. Teen girls are capable of more conviction and danger; funny how a band that apes everything about the excess of ’80s hair metal writes a midtempo yawnfest urging everyone to have a good time without sprinkling in the least bit of cheesy fun.

Near the end of Hot Cakes is a cover of Radiohead‘s “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” For a band like The Darkness, which reveres the decadent culture of booze and skirt-chasing, tackling the super-serious mope rock of Radiohead seems like an inevitable train wreck. However, this version has the band showing off its best true metal edges — blaring guitar leads and driving drums. The Darkness actually sounds like it loves playing this one, and Justin Hawkins’ high-pitched wailing is finally used to great effect. By far, it’s the most interesting — and mature — piece of music The Darkness has released.

If there is one lesson to be learned by the various misfires and few moments of clarity on Hot Cakes, it’s that The Darkness has the musical chops to keep people entertained. That said, these guys may never again record a song that is as catchy and popular as “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” and maybe they shouldn’t even try replicating that. If The Darkness makes it to a fourth album, Justin Hawkins and company should think about cutting back on the metal cheese and replacing it with more “Street Spirit”-flavored ingredients.

— By Mike Madden