The first song on Lex Hives is called “Come On!” It is 68 seconds long with a vocabulary of exactly three words. The only sentence of note comes at the 0:36 mark where Pelle Almqvist, in his traditional hammy strut, ushers in a unifying “Everybody come on!”
Despite what that number at the top of this review may lead you to believe, “Come On!” is not an evil thing. Glam, glitz, and punchdrunk, irrevocable stupidity has made for a beguilingly sharp ground-zero for these Swedes – perhaps it’s through remarkably low expectations, but critically and culturally we’ve been happy to surrender to these body-blasting hooks. The Hives have raked it in, a decade of scorching festival grounds and Leno appearances was precise commercial positioning to get in your Dad’s rotation, all while keeping the street-cred to avoid Warped Tour relegation. A few good nicknames, insults, and stage-dives have made an unlikely candidate for ubiquity set for life.
Something has changed in the five years since the furious, but forced The Black And White Album. Sure the Hives stuck together, played shows, and generally behaved like a band – but when you’re recording piecemeal over two years, and shuffling through eight different engineers, obvious implications are raised. Where former brainless bombshell leadoffs “Main Offender” and “Die, All Right!” shredded your bones, Lex Hives’ pre-release get-hype rallying-cry “Go Right Ahead” can barely pick up the pieces. Formless, flavorless guitar-nothings propping up wafer-thin E-Street horns. Almqvist constructed a shtick on flailing hot wax with healthy recklessness; here he’s dampened, fireless, and absurdly overmatched. The beguiling lack of energy or memory hangs over Lex Hives like a disgruntled thought bubble. Their records used to boom across the atlas, I’ll be surprised if this one gets out of the house.
In some ways Lex Hives sounds like a response to the world’s reluctance to call the Hives long-term auteurs, simply because the critical community rarely lets puffed-up garage get off easy. So regardless of its unglorious backfire, I suppose it’s at least on the right track philosophically. Perhaps it has something to do with tarnished legacy, but this is among the most neutered albums you’ll hear this year. It all sounds wrongly calculated, almost like they’re fishing for demographics. For whatever reason a five year sabbatical has thrown a perfectly fine rock band in a bizarre sea change. They take turns waxing on everything from boozy soul (“Without the Money”) to fraught post-punk (“My Time is Coming”) arriving at an almost insulting, cartoon-character impression. The production, something that used to be the Hives’ secret weapon, is polished to a gutless mirror shine – tinseled vocals, ticky-tack guitars, and rubber-band drums. It shows most egregiously on “I Want More,” a bleary stomp-along that so desperately wants to pillage, but is inevitably held back by hollow ingredients. It rings out like a depressing example of exactly what Lex Hives lost along the way.
They’re an insipid, uninspired mess right now, but the Hives aren’t done as much as they are confused. For all of its power, the magic of a record like Tyrannosaurus Hives is not a hard thing to recreate. The Hives need to remember why we liked them in the first place, and maybe this goes back to those low expectations, but we won’t hold it against them for rehashing.