The Darkness confounded many with their 2003 debut Permission to Land, sparking endless "Real Band or Novelty Act?" debates. Solid hooks and exhilarating choruses suggested the former, but Justin Hawkins' double-entendre laced lyrics and penchant for leopard-print unitards tended to undermine the band's legitimacy. Their follow-up, One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back, added bagpipes and sitars to the mix but did little to convince skeptics, and shortly after its release the band imploded, resulting in a seven-year dry spell for afficianados of falsettos and spandex.
If the above sounds a bit arch, let me be clear — I love The Darkness. So when I learned that they had a new album coming out, and that it was designed by my friend (and fellow Stylorouge alum) Rob Chenery, and said cover featured gigantic pancakes... Well, what could I do but struggle into some leather pants (top tip: talcum powder) and ask him about the design process?
Along with Mark Caylor and Keith White, Rob now runs London-based design agency Tourist, who provide print and digital solutions for clients as varied as Warner Bros, Renault and Virgin Atlantic. No strangers to tight deadlines, it's nevertheless impressive that they were able to turn the Hot Cakes campaign around in only six weeks.
Based loosely on a concept from a friend of the band, the brief was to create, as Chenery puts it, "an unapologetically mainstream, '70s porn, kitsch, Linda Lovelace vs Raquel Welch vibe, with big, bold retro typography." I think you'll agree: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Let's hear more in Rob's own words:
"Tourist submitted visual boards for styling—gold swimwear, sunglasses and stilettos, as well as various seductive model poses—to get the concept across to the band's management, and to get the band's approval before the shoot commenced. Taking it from a more polished photographic direction towards being a piece of art was something we wanted from the outset. We felt the final piece had to be a painting, and luckily the band went for it.
"We searched the internet for hyper-realistic painters and came across the very talented Diego Gravinese in Buenos Aires. We were lucky for him to accept our commission as he was in the middle of a project.
Originally, we planned to have the shoot take place in London but trying to find a 3D modeling company in London to build three giant 8-foot pancakes within the budget was impossible. After speaking with Diego, it became apparent that everything, including the shoot, could be done in Argentina for a fraction of the cost."
"With only a couple days to go before the shoot, we had to get the supreme sign-off from the band who had gone AWOL in an Australian motel somewhere and the time differences between Argentina, London and Austrailia also made things difficult."
Bassist Frankie Poullain, in an interview with The Quietus, recalled: "...The various pictures and poses were sent over to us - it sounds ridiculous, because for most other [bands], it's just something you could rattle off in no time - but we did want all the poses to look right, as we didn't want it to seem crass and exploitative."
This attention to detail from the band extended to a concern with one model's dark roots (really, if you're a professional model, it seems like you'd have that taken care of before a shoot), and a pair of sunglasses that simply had to go. "Luckily," Chenery continues, "Diego had another blonde model's head that slipped perfectly into place with the help of Photoshop, and the band were happy again."
"Diego was then let loose to transform it into a retro looking piece of art. The most challenging part of the painting was all the reflections in the syrup — Diego had an awful lot of retouching to do in order to get everything looking realistic."
"The whole process took over a week of retouching before approval from the band before the painting stage which took four weeks. Diego survived on only 5 hours of sleep a night throughout that time in order to deliver the painting artwork on time. We were more than pleased with the final result."
"The final piece to the composition was adding The Darkness logo and album title. We investigated having the logo made from syrup to sit against the black background of the painting but in the end we decided on a very thought-provoking dripping white logo with pornographic connotations. Finally, we had the provocative album cover we imagined from the outset."