The Hives, “Lex Hives”

Heavy Rotation: The Hives, “Lex Hives”

The Hives, "Lex Hives"

The most shocking thing about taking a spin through Lex Hives is how quickly it flashes you back to a magical time in pop culture when the Hives actually mattered.

It was the turn of the century, and the world’s supply of rock stars was dangerously low. Radiohead lamented the crushing tedium of touring in Meeting People Is Easy; Pearl Jam turned its back on MTV; Pat Smear kept quitting Foo Fighters; the Smashing Pumpkins and Pulp cashed in their chips (or so we thought). Someone needed say, “I will stand up and bravely take the cash, booze, girls, drugs, flashbulbs, fame and overall excess that comes with playing rock and roll.”

Enter the Hives, the Vines, the Libertines, the Strokes and the White Stripes. Rock & roll pulled the stick out of its keister and started shaking it again. Monster indie singles bombarded the landscape. Club shows quickly gave way to arena shows. Panties flew. Supermodels were sullied. Tabloids could barely keep up with band member antics.

The Hives declared they were “Your Favourite New Band” with the hits package that served as their debut outside Sweden. Singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist rivaled Tenacious D with his entitlement claims to the Rock God throne. When MTV tried to pit the Vines and the Hives in a deathmatch on a dreadful VMAs, they quickly learned nobody puts Pelle in a corner.

And then it was over. The Vines and the Libertines in particular were so hell bent on following the Nirvana trajectory that they forgot one essential element: leave behind a body of work before careening off the rails. Junkie Pete Doherty didn’t even join the Libertines on their big US tour. Thirty minutes into their set at Metro in Chicago, the Vines smashed their gear and walked off stage (the biggest dick move I had ever personally witnessed). Neither band followed up their promising debuts with anything of substance.

The Strokes perfected the “I’m beautiful and self-affected” routine long before Lana Del Rey came along. Amy Winehouse followed Doherty down the rabbit hole and never came back. Only Jack White seemed to emerge from the decade unscathed, for no other reason than he diversified.

Which brings us back to the Hives and their first LP since 2007’s underrated The Black and White Album. When the Hives declared nuclear war in the year 2000 (“The Hives Declare Guerre Nucleaire” from Veni Vidi Vicious), they promised to “do it again in 2010.” Well, better late than never.

The Hives of today sound damn close to the Hives of yesteryear — for better and worse. Taking a cue from Spinal Tap, when they’re not better than everyone else, they’re at least one louder. What makes their live shows legendary becomes the fundamental flaw with most of their records — every guitar, drum, vocal, brass and bass part on every track is mixed into the red. But within that hive of noise are some songs as sweet as honey.

On my first pass, I did not like Lex Hives. I winced at the shoplifting of hooks from ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” (“Go Right Ahead”) and Joan Jett’s version of “I Love Rock & Roll” (“I Want More”). But the more I listened, the more I had fun and the more I realized Lex Hives brings Pelle closer to his self-fulfilling prophecy of becoming the next Mick Jagger.

The album kicks off with a very a very urgent plea for our attention: “Come On” is not only the title of the song, it’s 93% of the lyrics. It’s like a splash of cold water to snap America out of its Bieber Fever.

“Go Right Ahead” mixes hand claps and sinister sax like the hell child of the Ramones and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. “1000 Answers” keeps the momentum going and would make the Buzzcocks very proud. On “I Want More,” Pelle keeps it real. He has bills to pay. He wants “a larger slice of pie, a bigger set of wheels, a million sets of human eyes staring right at me.” Our lost rock star has returned.

“Wait a Minute Now” is a total gem. Pelle is in full-blown Teen Angel mode while backed by futuristic doo-wop vocals and scuzzy guitars.

That sets the stage for “Patrolling Days” — one of the best songs in Hives history and at almost four minutes, one of the longest. It starts with a fury and keeps getting faster; the musical equivalent of a lime green GTO outrunning the law at 100 MPH. “Take Out the Toys” runs faster, more furiously, straight into a brick wall. “Without the Money” abruptly slows things down, it’s a decent bluesy, sleazy Stones song. The downshift is perfectly timed; my ears needed to catch their breath.

The balance of the album is at typical Hives hyperspeed until “Midnight Shifter” ends the party on a high note. Sadly, I wasn’t invited to the after party.

I bought the traditional album on Amazon when they priced it at $4.99. Fool. Money. Parted. While the Hives produced Lex Hives, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme produced the deluxe edition bonus tracks “Insane” and “High School Shuffle” (currently unavailable ala carte). The former sounds like the Zombies meet the Reverend Horton Heat. The latter kicks in with Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2″ stadium rocking riff. It superbly completes the classic academic anthem trilogy started by the Ramones and Alice Cooper. Why these career-reigniting singles were cast off to b-side land is beyond me. Homme’s crisp production allows all of the Hives’ exhilarating musical parts to shine. Here’s hoping he’s invited back to host the entire party next time.

About Heavy Rotation:

Call me lazy. Call me crazy. Call me maybe. But why rush a record review? All the diehards bought it on opening day, so this one is for everyone still on the fence. How does an album stand-up to multiple spins, deep thoughts and second opinions?

This album received 12 plays in a week.