The Black & White Album
If you're a fan of stripped down, guitar infested, pure high energy rock and roll, it's very hard not to like The Hives. The Swedish quintet broke big in 2000, riding the garage rock resurgence with the almost perfect "Hate To Say I Told You So", form the Veni Vidi Vicious album. The 2004 follow-up, Tyrannosaurus Hives, while a solid next step for the band, failed to top its predecessor in sales and popularity, despite a brutal supporting tour.
For The Black & White Album, Interscope took no chances - Modest Mouse producer Dennis Herring was brought on board for the bulk of the tracks, while hip hop honcho Pharell Williams handled two others. This is being treated almost as a make-or-break for the group, as far as reaching the wide audience they feel they deserve.
It doesn't disappoint. Opening with the first single, "Tick Tick Boom", the boys have delivered a song with enough punch and bravado ("I've done it before/And I can do it some more") to deserve a spot in the all time Hives Hall of Fame, up there with classics like "Main Offender" and "Hate To Say I Told You So". Complete with explosions punctuating the end of each chorus, cascading "Yeaaahhhhhhh" bleats from each member , the tune is all Hives, and should be a hit. "Try It Again", complete with a dueling guitar riff intro and accompanying real life cheerleaders, eases the record along. "They say the definition of madness/is doing the same thing/and expecting a different result" intones Pelle, and it's clear that this album signifies a new direction for the group, while still keeping their toes in the punky/garage pool.
As with previous records, there are selections which departure greatly from the standard Hive template. "Find Another Girl", "Diabolic Scheme" fit the bill on Vicious and Tyrannosaurus Hives respectively, but for The Black & White Album, no less than three songs fit the bill. Upon first listen, "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors" sounds like an outtake, or at least like a potential 30 second interlude. The spooky, 60's era horror movie organ gives brings the album to a halt after the sonic blasts of "Well All Right" and "Hey Little World". Initially I found this to be needless filler, but upon repeated listening, it makes for a nice transition to the obvious next hit single, "Won't Be Long". The second un-Hives like ditty, "Giddy Up", about nothing less than shagging your way through any disagreements you may have, contains a hiccupy refrain which can be grating at times. Love the message, though. "Puppet On A String", which utilizes nothing more than a piano and hand claps, grows on the listener, though after hearing this and "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors", one wonders if the guys watched a lot of Munsters and Addams Family reruns while cutting this album!
"Bigger Hole To Fill" keeps the band on point with a message that there is more to do, and they're ready for the challenge, while "Square One Here I Come" and "You Dress Up For Armageddon" seem to mock the entire slacker/whiner attitude rather than embrace it. This has never been a band that looked kindly upon sitting on ones ass, that's for sure, and The Black & White Album keeps up that sentiment in spades. "Won't Be Long" is an obvious attempt at crafting a radio-friendly hit song, and in a perfect world this would be played on every Top 40 station in the country. Likely? Doubtful. "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.", on the other hand, might see the light of day. The Blondie by way of Prince via Queen number is certainly catchy, and contains just enough of the group's comic book arrogance ("We rule the world!") to wink at those of us who are in on the gag. It doesn't hurt that the song is catchy as hell, especially after a few listens.
The Black & White Album is already showing up on some year end "best" lists, as well it should. This is a tight collection of songs by a band that we desperately need in an era of "Soulja Boy". Long may they carry the torch.
The Hives Broadcasting Service (Official site of The Hives)