The Hives are a law unto themselves. They didn’t think there was a rock ‘n’ roll band out there that met their standards, so they went and formed it. Unlike their noughties indie rock peers like Mando Diao and The Strokes, they never dressed like an NME focus group but like the fucking professionals they were. They called their first UK release Your New Favourite Band, and they worked with both Josh Homme and Pharrell Williams.
Fittingly, they have titled their new album Lex Hives, which roughly translates as “Hives’ Law”.
It’s been five years since the release of The Black and White Album, which was a move away from the tried and trusted 100mph garage punk of yore. Disco and soul elements were supplemented by a more subtle production, resulting in critical acclaim as well as a shot in the arm for the band themselves.
Lex Hives is a continuation of this approach. There are no break-neck punk grenades in the vein of ‘Untutored Youth’, no matter how much opener ‘Come On!’ wants to tell you otherwise. A throwaway hype maker with artificial crowd noise and a frenetic tempo, it’s out of step with the rest of the album, which is a lot more nuanced and, ultimately, more rewarding for it.
One of the many brilliant things about The Hives is the that they were obviously conceived as a kind of dapper, Scandinavian hybrid of the two best punk rock bands ever – The Ramones and The Stooges. But in 2012, there is more to them than that. ‘Wait A Minute’, for example, is a great New Wave pastiche of the kind fellow Swedes The Sounds nailed on their first couple of albums. The delicious synth swabs in the bridge help to build the tension, and the nasal harmonies in the chorus recall ’80s icon and one-time collaborator Cyndi Lauper. ‘My Time is Coming’, with its nervy, reverb-heavy guitar channels surf rock compilations and features Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist singing about the sweet taste of hard-earned success with the fervor of a Baptist preacher.
The tongue-in-cheek megalomania is as present as ever, but when listening to the dusty, slightly staged Joan Jett rock of ‘I Want More’ you might think The Hives are only partly joking when they sing lines like “I should be at peace with the world baby/But still I want some more/A larger slice of pie, a bigger set of wheels/A million sets of human eyes/Staring right at me”.
The dullest moments on Lex Hives occur when the band try to offer an olive branch to old school fans. ‘Take Back the Toys’ is uninspired Hives-by-numbers, made worse by the ponderous tempo, while ‘Go Right Ahead’’s splendid, minimalistic brass parts can’t mask the lack of urgency and direction.
However, it’s great to hear Pelle exert himself even more than he did on The Black and White Album. He still does a mean, sarcasm-infused yelp (check the old school Hives putdown ’If I Had a Cent’ – “If I had a cent for every time/For every time you crossed the line/Of what’s appropriate or not/I’d be the richest guy in town”), but he’s toned down the shouting and turned up the crooning.
Anyone who saw the band’s performance on Jools Holland the other week will know that their metronomic, hard-hitting live performances are unlikely to mellow, but it’s inevitable that, after more than decade in the game, they will continue to dispose of the limitations they set themselves when they started out.
The Hives’ word is still law – albeit with a few more loopholes.