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The Hives blindside audience with memorable record

Ryan Raffin | Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Hives are the world’s biggest rock and roll band. Or so lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist has claimed the past several years, his bravado backed by fired-up garage rock. Their biggest hit came five years ago with “Veni Vidi Vicious” and the impossibly catchy single “Hate To Say I Told You So,” but not since then have the Hives seen anywhere near that kind of success. 2004’s “Tyrannosaurus Hives” was an excellent album, but lacked the immediacy of “Veni”; album sales reflected that. So in 2007, the Hives are in an odd place: pressured by their label to make the new album a hit at the risk of fading into obscurity. In other words, things haven’t gone according to plan, because the Hives aren’t the world’s biggest rock band.If there is any justice in the world, “The Black and White Album” will change the Hives’ fortunes. The ambition that was always present for the band is still here – look only to the title, which references both the Beatles and Metallica. Better yet, the music backs up the ambition, presenting the group’s most melodic and catchy effort yet. First single “Tick Tick Boom” kicks the album off in an explosive manner; you may have heard it in a recent Nike commercial. The album doesn’t let up from there, staying fast paced and loud, but with newfound melodic sensibilities. Nearly every song on this album could be a single, with the exception of the instrumental “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors.” It’s that catchy. Between the speedy “You Got It All…Wrong,” the hilariously written “Return the Favour,” and the bouncy “You Dress Up For Armageddon,” it will be unfair if this album sells less than a million copies. The Hives have always been a band that knew not to mess with their signature sound too much. As a group that plays garage rock, a genre that essentially has not changed since its inception in the 1960s, a huge departure in sound would leave a lot of fans scratching their heads. Not a lot of things can be done with the formula, but the Hives stretch their sound to its absolute limit. The production is cleaned up and given a pop sheen, keyboards make appearances, and there are shades of disco-esque dance beats on “Well All Right!” and “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” Thank co-producer Pharrell Williams for the intriguing glimpse of what would happen if the Hives suddenly decided to become Franz Ferdinand. The weakest song here is “Giddy Up!” which offers advice to couples with relationship problems in a rather repetitive manner (hint: the horse riding theme is a metaphor). Even this song is still good; it just happens to be only good, while the other songs all range from very good to stellar. The lyrics are a notch better than usual; this may be the best writing of the Hives’ career. Whether it’s referencing Pavlov’s Dog, Samson and Delilah, Muhammad Ali or simply declaring the outright greatness of the Hives, the lyrics combine thought-provoking and uproarious. For a rock band in today’s scene, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.All the Hives want is your ear for 48 minutes. So when Pelle Almqvist announces, “Look out!” at the beginning of album closer “Bigger Hole To Fill,” it’s a warning that comes far too late. If the listener had been warned earlier, he would have known to expect an amazing and memorable rock ‘n’ roll album with near-brilliant lyrics that also never forgets to be fun. The Hives have blindsided everyone with a truly great record and, for once, getting caught unaware is a good thing.