The Hives, ‘Lex Hives’ – Album Review
The Hives have made a career out of being crazier than anybody else -- and with their fifth studio effort, 'Lex Hives,' the crowd provoking, guitar twirling, eardrum crushing garage glam-punk Swedes have made the comeback album of the year.
That’s all clear in just the first 68 seconds: The titular punk rock mantra of ‘Come On' reintroduces frenetic frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist for the first time since 2007’s ‘Black and White Album.’ They still hold their who-you-lookin’-at pugilism of the early days. ‘Go Right Ahead’ struts as it seethes, like a more snarling Kinks. Taking a page from Operation Ivy, ‘1000 Answers’ lifts from the best of American ska and is a goofball rocker that might actually be danceable.
Almqvist's lyricism is clever, both honest and sarcastic, as evidenced by ‘I Want More,’ an unabashedly acquisitive anthem with guitarist Nicholaus Arson channeling his boyhood hero Angus Young in the crunch of his riff. The classic rock is exchanged for New Wave on ‘Wait AaMinute,’ a demonic Devo send-up of generational rift: “You say that these kids are insane / That they’ve got drugs instead of brains." Is Almqvist making fun or agreeing with the criticism? Probably both.
While the Hives have made their career as garage rockers, the power chords aesthetic sometimes grows a little formulaic, as is the case with ‘Patrolling Days,’ which tries to capture a ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’-era Clash style social commentary but doesn’t hit lyrically or musically. The Hives are more effective when donning that New Wave cap. ‘Take Back the Toys’ is a catchy and powerful anti-materialistic screed.
A bluesy guitar announces ‘Without the Money,’ in which Almqvist is again duplicitous, observing that you can’t do anything without currency -- and that without the dough, “they” are just like you and me. It could be an old Black Keys cut if those Akron boys had a hyperactive lead singer. The Hives can still scrape picks with the best pop punkers, as revealed by ‘These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics,’ a thrasher that Jello Biafra would be proud of.
‘My Time Is Coming’ opens with a lurching durge. Almqvist -- with a deep, resonant voice, incanting an eerie-jangly prophecy -- declares he is the “seventh son of none" amid comparatively calm instrumentation. But they are the Hives, and they want to light fires -- and that’s how they close the album: ‘If I Had a Cent’ is as driving as it is silly, and ‘Midnight Shifter’ is a power pop explosion of prodding absurdity, along the lines of “you gotta lift your chin to see what comes up ahead / Before the casket slams shut and the fat lady’s dead.”
The Hives are very much alive, and in their years have not lost a step, but have rather gained tight musicianship and wry lyricism. These 32 minutes are a concentrated, cacophonic romp, an album that culls from everything that makes the Hives the Hives: all things hard, fast and loud.