The Hives – Lex Hives
It’s remarkable to note just how much can change over the course of a decade; arguably even more so to note what stays the same. It was around this time ten years ago you couldn’t read a single music publication that wasn’t heralding the garage rock revival: In a blur of big guitars, bigger choruses and waves of distortion, a select group of bands brought a sound normally delegated to alternative radio to mainstream attention. The Hives were one of said bands, and ten years on they remain – guitars still plugged in, every original member still present and not a single check into rehab.
What’s their secret? It’s a blend of the KISS principle and an investment in their own music that is unshakable. Their detractors will brandish their music – particularly their latest venture, Lex Hives – as an exercise in irrelevance; and yet there is something so vital about the way these tracks are conveyed that makes them feel as exciting now as they would have back in 2002.
Lex Hives is a fun album, a record that proves not only that an album doesn’t have to be long to be a long-player; but that music that works within a certain formula isn’t necessarily formulaic. The album’s opener presents pounding drums, rumbling bass and an entire lyric set that consists of two commands: “C’mon!” and “Everybody c’mon!” Without pausing for breath, it rolls straight into Go Right Ahead – the rhythm section again pulsing through in solid rock fashion while another simple command is repeated incessantly. Who cares if the old dogs don’t know new tricks when they still manage to do them in such style? It continues throughout the album’s thirty minute runtime, keeping up a sprawling up-tempo energy at a remarkably consistent rate. Highlights come thick and fast: the bouncy Take Back the Toys, which shares some of the same lightning in a bottle that created 2007’s Tick Tick Boom; as well as the breakneck Buzzcocks homage of These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics, are naming just a couple.
The album also adds in some subtle spice and flavour in unexpected places, allowing for both brief deviations from the structure of the songs and to delve into the band’s own eccentricities. Go Right Ahead begins with the song’s hook being played through a Daft Punk-esque vocoder, later adding in some brass that is much more Stooges than Kenny G. Vocalist Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist also makes departures from his normal yelping vocal style to try on a smoky baritone, featured in tracks like My Time is Coming and Wait a Minute to notable effect. While it doesn’t quite stretch to the experimental limits of their previous effort, The Black and White Album, it actually benefits from this: whereas that album occasionally needed roping in, the band feels and sounds much more within their comfort zone here.
Of course, Lex Hives isn’t going to please everyone. The guitar tones are cleaner than on previous efforts, suggesting that their original raw aesthetic may have been lost in translation this time around. It’s also worth considering – however painful it may be to say – that seldom few listeners will be able to stay as excited about every single track as the band themselves clearly are upon repeated listens. Although there are plenty of great tracks here, the album may lose its flavour quicker than, say, 2004’s Tyrannosaurus Hives. The main issue for many, though, will simply be the fact the band do nothing here that they haven’t tried before. Not that it’s expected of them, of course; just that this is a record that may come across as too safe – and that’s certainly not something becoming of a band oft-regarded as one of the best live rock bands on the planet.
Still, every experience is different, and there are sure to be a myriad of reactions to this album. If your tolerance of the Hives has never gone past a handful of songs, Lex Hives won’t convert you. Then again, that isn’t even close to being its intention. This is an album all about that initial sugar rush, that flurry of excitement the first time the tracks crack through the speakers, inducing the kind of dancing that leaves you catching your breath after only two minutes. It’s the Hives doing the Hives – and nobody does it better.