CD Review of The Black and White Album by The Hives
Recommended if you like
Green Day, Jet, Fall Out Boy
Label
Interscope
The Hives:
The Black and White Album

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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Y
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Howlin' Pelle Almqvist screams as he opens the new record, the fifth from this quirky Fagersta, Sweden (that's no joke, kids) quintet, who play punk that comes close to crossing over into New Wave – except this album finds the band experimenting, reaching, and collaborating with hot producers on the pimpin' side of the street (Timbaland and Pharrell Williams) as well as Jacknife Lee (U2, Green Day) and Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello). At first blush, this producer stew would seem to account for the album's all-over-the-place sound, but really, that's not the case.

The Timbaland songs, it turns out, never made it on the record. The Hives recorded some 30 songs, winnowing the final list to 14. Timbaland's stuff never really got finished. The Pharrell Williams joints, "Well All Right" and "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.," are kind of peculiar, but interesting. The first is a wacky, bouncing little cut that is peculiarly poppy for the band with a bizarre little bridge -- but not that far out of spec. The second is a jarring -- for the Hives -- funk cut that...somehow...kinda works. But just barely working is a far cry from the cuts with which the Hives previously made their living like "Abra Cadaver," "Walk Idiot Walk," and "Main Offender."

Truth be told, old Hives fans will be pretty jacked up to hear a nice assortment of classic Hives skull-crushing anthems, like "Hey Little World," "Try It Again" (featuring, believe it or not, the University of Mississippi cheerleading squad on the chorus) and the perfectly frenetic first single "Tick Tick Tick Boom," definitely a top-five Hives cut, all time. The Hives even go back to 1985 and bash out some Misfits-esque "whoa-ay-oh" stadium crankers, in the form of "Return the Favour" and "You Got It All...Wrong." Great stuff.

Then, inexplicably, after making fans get used to the Pharrell Williams joints, the band reaches into an even more bizarre bag of tricks and comes up with "A Stroll Through the Hives Manor Corridors" and "Puppet on a String," are two examples of several such servings of stripped-down sonic weirdness, reminiscent of the time-filling instrumentals on those 1960s pop records where a band knew they had five or six decent cuts, maybe a couple of hits, and they still had to put some more music on the LP to make their 40-minute quote without having too much blank place in the center of the record. Meandering and droning, these cuts might serve well as moody little transitions between drug-addled Marilyn Manson tunes, but here, they're just weird. Thankfully there's enough high-octane guitar thrashing in addition to this weird stuff to make the album serviceable to its faithful fans.

People unfamiliar with the band might get a little confused listening to The Black and White Album, but that's probably okay, because they'll figure it out when they delve deeper into the band's catalog and hear the old stuff, which is straightforward, clear, and frankly better. God bless 'em for trying something new, and we hope it wasn't a case of some dumbass A&R dude at Interscope jamming them in a room with some hitmaking producers because on paper it looked like a good combination. The Hives are a great little band; with any luck, whatever pox infiltrated half the songs on this album will be cured by the time they come around again.

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