The Hives- The Black and White Album
“I know that has been a long time coming,” sings the Hives’ vocalist “Howlin’” Pelle Almqvist on the song “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” and it certainly has for many fans of Swedish garage rock band the Hives, who haven’t released an album since 2004’s garage rockin’ Tyrannosaurus Hives. As I ripped off the packaging to The Black and White Album, their highly anticipated new release, and opened the CD case, a small black insert fell out. “Get your favorite track from The Black and White Album as a ringtone by texting the information below.” A list of tracks and numbers to text follow. Gasp! Are the Hives… selling out?
Ha. Of course not. Though this album, released Nov. 13, is certainly a far cry musically from the dirtier, punk rock sound of the band’s debut record Barely Legal (1997), it doesn’t mean that it rocks any less. The Hives have been creating quite the buzz about The Black and White Album since the first single, “Tick Tick Boom,” was released in August. They had also assured themselves of some attention when they collaborated with hip-hop producer Timbaland for “Throw It on Me,” which was made available on Timbaland’s album Timbaland Presents Shock Value, released in April. It would be interesting to see if the Hives, who proclaimed themselves “Your New Favorite Band” with the compilation release of the same name in 2001, would be able to stay solid with their new record.
The ensuing hype, from the collaboration with Timbaland and the tracks released on iTunes before the actual album came out, was definitely not unfounded. From start to finish, The Black and White Album packs a hard punch. It’s the typical garage rock sound listeners have come to expect from the band that produced songs like “Hate to Say I Told You So” and “Walk Idiot Walk,” but it isn’t a carbon copy of albums like Veni Vidi Vicious or Tyrannosaurus Hives. It’s not perfect—“Giddy Up” is a little odd, and many listeners may choose to skip over it, and the other atypical Hives songs on the album (the instrumental “A Stroll through Hive Manor Corridors” and the more dance-sounding “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.”) are different, but not bad. For listeners used to the previous albums, where mostly every track is fast, loud, and guitar-driven (an exception would be “Find Another Girl” from Veni Vidi Vicious), these tracks and the piano-heavy “Puppet on a String” may be a surprise, but they shouldn’t turn fans away.
Vocalist Almqvist lives up to his moniker on this album, with plenty of yeahs, heys, screams, shrieks and the like audible in almost every track. “Tick Tick Boom” is a good choice for an album opener; a little bit of soft cymbal-tapping is followed shortly by a loud, foot-tapping rhythm, and the song finishes as powerfully as it began. Like pretty much all of the Hives’ material, it’s catchy- you know everyone who gets this record is going to be screaming “YEAH!” right along with Almqvist every time he does it- and an excellent choice for the first single.
You would think that with such a powerful first track that the second one might be a bit of a letdown, but “Try It Again” is almost better. It has handclaps (a good time for all, of course), and Almqvist is even joined by a group of shouting girls (rumored to be cheerleaders from Ole Miss, according a photo caption on the Hives’ website) on the chorus.
Several other tracks on the album stand out, as well. “Hey Little World” will have listeners clapping along to drummer Chris Dangerous’ rhythms and dancing in their computer chairs; “Won’t Be Long” has something that sounds suspiciously like a xylophone that pops up near the end of the track, though the overall sound of the song is very danceable; and “Bigger Hole to Fill,” while it starts out a little slowly, really kicks in near the half, though I think we can perhaps see a language issue with the line “Got no time to spill” in the chorus (shouldn’t it be “got no time to kill,” guys?).
One of the best songs on the album is in the back half. “Square One Here I Come” is pretty fast-moving, and the lyrics are funny to follow, too (“Didn’t go to school ‘cause nobody told me/Nobody told me ‘cause nobody knew shit/Nobody knew shit ‘cause nobody knows nothing/Nobody knows nothing and that’s just it”). “Square One,” like most of the songs on The Black and White Album, is one hell of a garage-rockin’ good time, and naturally, it’s pretty catchy, too.
While it may not be possible for the Hives to have another song reach the popularity of “Hate to Say I Told You So” (where’s Dr. Matt Destruction’s awesome bass solo in this album?), The Black and White Album is probably some of the band’s best work. Do you like having fun? If you do, this record won’t come amiss in your collection. If you’re too lazy to make the purchase, you can find the video for “Tick Tick Boom” on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth the watch. As they say, “We rule the world, this is our world… T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” and for 2007, the world of rock & roll belongs to the Hives.