Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, who has called Fagersta, Sweden “the punk rock capital of the universe,” formed the Hives there in the early ’90s when all five members were still in their teens. They started out as a fairly typical punk band, but their rock and roll sound gradually turned more “classic” — loaded with swagger, attitude and seemingly bottomless reserves of confidence. Along the way, the band developed its image of matching black and white suits and colorful stage names. (Almqvist is joined in the Hives by his guitar-playing brother Nicholaus Arson, guitarist Vigilante Carlstrom, drummer Chris Dangerous, bassist Dr. Matt Destruction and an unseen sixth member, Randy Fitzsimmons, the band’s supposed songwriter and Svengali.) In the process, the Hives got lumped into a supposed garage rock renaissance along with the Strokes, White Stripes, Vines and several other groups around the world who happened to be leaning in the same musical direction with different color schemes at the time.
Oh Lord! When! How! is more punk than garage, with the group’s sense of humor evident in “You Think You’re So Darn Special,” “Bearded Lady” and (take a breath first) “Some People Know All Too Well How Bad Liquorice, or Any Candy for That Matter, Can Taste When Having Laid Out in the Sun Too Long — and I Think I Just Ate Too Much.” (The Hives’ look is in place on this EP, but they’re still using their given names.)
Most of the songs on Barely Legal (14 of them in 27 minutes) hew closely to the fast-faster-c’mon-dammit-faster template, but “Here We Go Again” (which includes organ on the chorus to excellent effect), “Hail Hail Spit ‘n Drool,” “The Stomp” and “Oh Lord! When! How!” (which doesn’t appear on the EP of that title) throttle back a touch, imparting a sense of dynamics and swagger that the Hives could take to the bank.
The A.K.A. I-D-I-O-T EP combines that song from Barely Legal with five non-LP tracks, including a cover of the Adicts’ “Numbers” which also appears on A Killer Among Us, a split EP with fellow Swedish rockers the Pricks.
Veni Vidi Vicious makes the Hives’ previous recordings sound amateurish (which they are, but never mind). The band finds a perfect balance between ’70s punk and ’60s punk and works it with thuggish playing that is nonetheless tight and nimble. “Main Offender,” “Hate to Say I Told You So” and “Inspection Wise 1999” rock with the brutishness of the Stooges, a swing that uplifts such accelerants as “The Hives Declare Guerre Nucleaire,” “A Get Together to Tear It Apart,” “Outsmarted” and “The Hives Introduce the Metric System in Time.” Sounding more focused and potent than ever, the Hives kick out the jams with direction as well as fury. A cover of the Impressions’ “Find Another Girl” with lounge-style guitars and bossa nova rhythm machine provides a breather from the onslaught. Apart from the lyrics of “Supply and Demand” and “Die All Right!” (angry rejoinders to capitalism), Almqvist doesn’t sing about much apart from extolling his own ultra-badness and his band’s manifest destiny, but no matter. From start to finish, Veni Vidi Vicious makes a persuasive case for his point.
Released in the UK to capitalize on the Hives’ success, Your New Favourite Band includes four songs from Veni Vidi Vicious, all of the A.K.A. EP save for the Adicts cover, two tracks from Barely Legal and a B-side, “The Hives Are Law, You Are Crime” — a title that efficiently sums up the band’s worldview.
Tyrannosaurus Hives adroitly applies the band’s growing sense of dynamics: “Two Timing Touch and Broken Bones,” “No Pun Intended” and “See Through Head” rock with maximum toughness and velocity but enough dexterity to navigate clever rhythmic twists with ease. An angular, memorable guitar hook makes the single “Walk Idiot Walk” sound like a terrific lost track from Devo’s first album. The band tries a few new tricks here, adding pulsing synthesizer to “Love in Plaster” and slowing down to a sinister minor-key waltz in “Diabolic Scheme.” Furthermore, Almqvist (or, rather, Fitzsimmons) has a reference point beyond the band’s awesomeness. In “Dead Quote Olympics,” “Abra Cadaver” and “Missing Link,” the singer decries the deadening routine of modern life and urges the listener to wake up before it’s too late: “You didn’t read between the lines / So it won’t do you any good, it’s true / And that moment that you live for / It doesn’t live for you.” (Sustaining the Fitzsimmons myth, the match-up cover art of Tyrannosaurus Hives shows the five identically dressed band members from the waist up on the front cover…and six pairs of legs on the back.)
“They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” says Pelle Almqvist on The Black and White Album. As if to prove the point, a batch of producers here try different things with mixed results. Dennis Herring (Camper Van Beethoven, Elvis Costello, Counting Crows, Modest Mouse) produced the half that most resembles the band’s earlier efforts. His opening salvo of “Tick Tick Boom,” “Try It Again” and “You Got It All…Wrong” gets the CD off to a tremendous start. The guitars, vocals and walloping beats have more clarity and depth than ever, making the Hives’ strut seem that much more justified. Produced by the Neptunes, “Well All Right!” has a jump-blues groove that pauses long enough for a jarring waltz break. After that, the real experiments begin. With Jacknife Lee at the board, the Hives apply an urgent, vaguely New Order-ish rhythm to “Hey Little World.” The band self-produced “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors,” an instrumental with haunted-house organ over a cheap-sounding drum machine, and “Puppet on a String,” whose piano and castanets wouldn’t sound out of place on an Addams Family re-run. “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” another Neptunes effort, with a funk groove, silly lyrics (“We rule the world / This is our world”) and a descending electric-piano riff and robotic chant, will make a great theme when the Hives get their own Saturday morning cartoon show. After all that experimentation, the album ends up back in Herring’s hands, with “Return the Favour,” “Square One Here I Come” and “You Dress Up for Armageddon.” The Black and White Album is the Hives’ most uneven work to date, but it’s good to hear the band squirming its way out of the strait-jacket. The best tracks on this one are essential, and the experiments are well worth hearing.