Album review: The Hives roll back into rock on ‘Lex Hives’

The Hives
“Lex Hives”
Disques Hives

The Hives are bringing listeners back to the yesteryear of garage rock on “Lex Hives.” But rather than simply return to the 1960s and ’70s punk and garage breeding ground, the Hives seem to venture only as far back as their own earliest recordings.

The approach almost makes sense. When the Hives first broke through to the masses with “Hate to Say I Told You So,” the band quenched a rock ‘n’ roll thirst — one that may have gone undetected otherwise — with near-spastic tempos, chubby bass lines and all the shouting and stomping a person could desire. Isn’t that what made the Hives so likable from the start?

It is, but it’s also potentially a little monotonous, even if pleasantly so. “Come On!” starts the band’s fifth studio album appropriately at about a minute in length, egging the listener to stay tuned for the full half-hour release, evocative of a kid brother or sister tugging at your shirt for undivided attention.

But that’s not to assert that “Lex Hives” lacks powerful material. The band really cops an attitude on “Go Right Ahead,” an excellent instance of what the Hives do best. Within the first 10 seconds, there are claps and a curdling battle scream, the vocal signature of Pelle Almqvist. Throw in layers of baritone-rich horns, Almqvist’s taunts — “Go right ahead/scream your head off like the day you was born” — and iron-fisted drum cadences and the process is complete.

The Hives continue to do right by their rock ‘n’ roll roots on “Midnight Shifter,” a song that bookends the album with a sound that could nearly fill a dancehall. The tempo is quick, but not dizzyingly so. The band horn section fattens up the track alongside hand claps, a fuzzy bass line by Mattias Bernvall and Christian Grahn’s heavy drumming.

Without the brass, the song might risk the destiny of a filler track on “Lex Hives.” Instead, “Midnight Shifter” is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Don’t get me wrong,” Almqvist sings. We could be one in the same/but there’s a difference in the way that we’re playing the game.” And the conviction of the Hives’ playing shines through.

Other songs on “Lex Hives” are not as fortunate, and cause the otherwise loud and swift album to drag a bit, regardless of the beats per minute. “1000 Answers” has a blistering tempo and motorized guitar riffs by way of Niklaus Almqvist and Mikael Karlsson, but the hinting desperation cannot be masked.

Almqvist howls, “I’ve got a thousand answers, one’s gotta be right/Give me a thousand chances and I’ll get it right.” In such moments, it’s as if the Hives are trying to convince themselves that they’ve almost got it right, that all relevance hasn’t been lost.

A band as raucous as the Hives has done well in taking the core elements of rock ‘n’ roll as heard throughout the decades and assembling their own brand of screeching garage rock. But in the end there are no guarantees that the Hives won’t fall by the wayside. Recycling one’s strengths simply isn’t the same as innovating them.

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