The Hives ‘Lex Hives’ – Review

25 Jun

“What you want as a band is to have people saying: “Oh, that band is like the Hives,” not, “Oh, the Hives, they’re like that band …” And in order to get to that point you have to have an identity. And to have an identity you have to be consistent.” The Hives, The Guardian, 2012.

“They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. DOO WACKO!”  The Hives, ‘Try It Again’, 2006.

The Hives know about the importance of consistency and they also know that consistency isn’t exactly appreciated in 2012 – in fact it’s shockingly unappreciated. Today bands are expected to ‘do a Radiohead’ with every album in order to survive, and groups that don’t are considered static and boring. But some of the greatest bands in the history of rock n roll have made a living by being consistent – just look at The Ramones, The Beach Boys, Iron Maiden, Oasis etc. The Hives have forged an identity through consistency in spite of the naysayers.

They also know that, having basically made the same album four times in a row for a largely disinterested mainstream audience, they aren’t going to breakthrough with their Fifth studio album, ‘Lex Hives’. Despite what they claimed on ‘Try It Again’, and despite the perception of the mainstream music press, The Hives are NOT mad. They won’t be expecting different results this time around; ‘Lex Hives’ is going to be lovingly gobbled up by their loyal fanbase, but this is not an album that is going to win them any new fans. Thankfully, after a couple of years on a major label, pandering to a non-existent audience, this is something The Hives no longer don’t give a damn about. The thing about being consistent is, if you aren’t popular at the beginning, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be popular at the end.

On this sort of self titled album, The Hives are shooting straight at the hearts and minds of the true believers, and it’s all the better for it. In this fickle industry they are one group we can trust to make the album we want and expect. They may take years and years in-between records but you know that when they do release an album, it will be worth the wait. In the gaps between albums The Hives tour the world, cementing their position as the greatest live band on the planet. In all fairness, they have so many classics that are already guaranteed a place in their setlists to begin with that only 3 or 4 songs from any new album could possibly have a chance of being squeezed in. In that respect ‘Lex Hives’ succeeds by providing a handful of new tunes that will fit in very nicely thank you very much!

Case in point number one: ‘Go Right Ahead’, a blistering attack on the state of modern rock music that is so far ahead of anything else released by five guys with guitars this year, it’s not even funny. Case in point number two: ‘1000 Answers’, a blink and you’ll miss it punk number that recalls ‘No Pun Intended’ from ‘Taranasarurs Hives’. Case in point number 3: ‘Wait a Minute’, a doo-woop song with a bit of an edge, not dissimilar to the stuff The Ramones did with Phil Spector 30 years ago. Case in point number 4: ‘These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics’, a tune that eats The Vaccines for breakfast and then goes back for Spector. These tracks will sound great live, filling the spaces between ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’, ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ and ‘Tick Tick Boom’.

Speaking of ‘These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics’, it’s  about bands who can’t take their eyes of the rearview mirror. Howlin’ Pele has to be delivering these lines with a nod and a wink, doesn’t he? It’s hard to read much of anything into his Swedish accent, but I’d happily bet that he’s having a laugh with the critics who miss the point and bang on about The Hives being stuck in the past – as if music this energetic and vibrant could be stuck in any way shape or form! The Hives know how to rock. They rock like it’s 1966. They rock like it’s 1977. They rock like it’s 2002. They rock like it’s 2012. They just ROCK, and that doesn’t go out of style.

But they also know how to roll, which is important; these songs have an energy that makes you want to jump up and down at speed, but there are also pauses, comedowns and finely nuanced moments of clarity. This is a well-balanced and finely produced album (you would hope so after the amount of time it’s taken to make). They realise that to have the desired effect you don’t need many ingredients at all, so fittingly this is quite a minimalist record. ‘Go Right Ahead’ and ‘Midnight Shifter’ add some tastefully mixed horns, but otherwise this is The Hives stripped back to basics after the excess of the vastly underrated ‘Black and White Album’. There they flirted with disco, jazz and power pop, all the  while delivering the songs in a way only The Hives are capable of. For better of worse, the diet here is bass, guitar, drums and vocal (with the occasional stab of organ or honky tonk piano).

The formula is the same as before; a couple of slow-ish songs, some fast songs, some faster songs and some songs that would make The Ramones loose breath. It’s the same formula that worked so successfully on ‘Your New Favourite Band’ and ‘Barely Legal’, but 15 years on from that debut there’s no doubt The Hives glory days, on record at least, are slightly behind them. One or two of these songs (I’m looking at you ‘If I Had a Cent’ and ‘I Want More’) sound a bit stale and lethargic, and a couple of times they recall past tunes too intensely, but mostly The Hives are still on fine form. So whilst ‘Lex Hives’ isn’t their best album, or even close to being their best album, it’s still a breath of fresh air in 2012 – which kind of says a lot about the state of modern music, considering this is such a triumphantly old-fashioned album. No longer our new favourite band, The Hives are now just our favourite band.

8/10

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