Monsters of Rock
Andy Mussell kinda likes the new Hives album, a little.
Why are the Hives so goddamn good? And why does it look more and more likely that they are going to go down in history as one-hit wonders? (N.B. Maybe I’m wrong and they’re getting radio airplay in other parts of the country, but I’m taking an extended vacation in a place where culture has been replaced by a loud sucking sound, and I had to pick up a Chicago paper before I realized they had a new album out.) It just doesn’t get better than Tyrannosaurus Hives. There are a few weaker points on the album, but the bright spots are so bright they may as well be suns burning in a new constellation of rock.
Something is happening, a new generation of rock ‘n roll is rearing its snout, and I couldn’t be happier. Whether it’s Australia or the UK (think Jet or Franz Ferdinand) or less likely spots like Sweden, the Hives’ homeland, threads of rock history are being woven into a new web, garage and punk and new wave and grunge are fused into a hard sharp diamond that sparkles even as it threatens to leave a jagged wound. (Don’t get me wrong, the US is contributing too, whether it be Interpol or QOTSA or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or…)
Tyrannosaurus Hives is a perfect example. Their previous release, Veni Vidi Vicious, which spawned their single “Hate to Say I Told You So,” drew heavily from garage rock of the ‘60s and the ‘70s punk revolution, creating a nearly uncontrollable yet tightly channeled energy that led to it having my vote for 2002 album of the year (and to those of you who quibble, yes, I know it first appeared on a small label in 2000, but 2002 was when it really hit stateside). Spin in a DEVO-inspired new wavey sound as well as a few other diverse influences and you’ll have Tyrannosaurus Hives.
Like Veni Vidi Vicious, the new album starts with a roughly 90-second sonic assault on the listener. “Wake up, the Hives are here,” the track “Abra Cadaver” proclaims, though not as ostentatiously as “The Hives – Declare Guerre Nucleaire” did on VVV. (The two albums are like twins born years apart. Both have 12 tracks, have around a half-hour total runtime – even the order of the tracks on the new album seems to be in the image of the previous, like how track 8 on both are down tempo, with a toned-down version of vocalist Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s signature wail.) It moves quickly into “Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones,” where a quirky synthesizer becomes apparent and that at only 2 minutes is just a little too short to be entirely satisfying.
Third up is “Walk Idiot Walk,” which is good but my least favorite track on the album, and the only one I seldom listen to. It’s because I’m too eager to listen to the next track. “No Pun Intended” explodes. This is the first song where all the elements of the Hives’ sound, the crashing rhythm section, the steady but intricate bass line, the sharp guitar, the texture of the synths, and crowning it all the aggressive vocals, gel into a perfect, seamless whole. This track is a masterpiece; it’s worthy of being taught in schools, if there was a school for art-punk. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the song is about or what the unintended pun was, but I can tell you these guys are pissed off and they’re not going to stop until someone is bloody. “Not going down no in no history / You’re going down because of me.”
Having started something good, the Hives keep it up for another three tracks. “A Little More for Little You” mixes the blatant violence of “No Pun Intended” with more retro sound of “Two-Timing Touch” and throws an early rock influence in for shit and giggles, I guess – I swear there’s a nod to Chuck Berry in one of their lyrics – but it all comes off with a good sound and stays pretty catchy. “B is for Brutus” is the closest I’ve heard the Hives come to having an agenda, a sarcastic attack on materialism and groupthink mentalities coupled with an effective doom-and-gloom grind.
But it’s not until “See Through Head” begins that the band shows off their full talents again. “I know what you’re thinking / You got a mind and it’s stinkin’ / You know why? / You got a transparent cranium and a see through head,” it begins, and it stays the track the reminds me most of the bulk of VVV, a crashing, grinding, screaming mass of hatred moving at a hundred miles of hour that’s incredibly catchy and full of hairpin shifts.
The tempo moves down a few notches in “Diabolic Scheme,” which channels the spirit of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, right down to the silly vocodered phrase “diabolic scheme” that gets repeated over and over about halfway down in the mix. It moves right into “Missing Link,” which is an enjoyable if fairly forgettable pan of the rat race in typical Hives style.
And then the second masterpiece of Tyrannosaurus Hives begins. “Love In Plaster” begins quietly, with two tones repeated back and forth quickly, almost like a siren, soon joined by a basic drum line, then bass and vocals, with a breath of surf music texture. “I really thought / That we (pause) had something moving faster / Than love in plaster,” begins this lament for a failed relationship. VVV had one of these too, “Supply and Demand,” but where that track soothed wounded heartstrings by concluding that the girl was never really worth the time anyway, “Love In Plaster” is an unstrained cry of remorse, a hurt, confused accusation of what could have been but isn’t. What really distinguishes the track is subtle. After every stanza/chorus repetition, the tempo shifts slightly faster, creating a really effective sensation of a soul careening toward an abyss.
The last two tracks on the album finish it off lower-key than what has come before, again similar to VVV. “Dead Quote Olympics” is an indictment of small-minded pretension, in proper ‘go fuck yourself’ spirit. “Antidote” is anything but, another of the Hives’ trademark attacks on the world at large.
It’s a damned good album by a damned good band, a fusion of rock genres that produces some of the catchiest, angriest, simply best music I’ve heard in my life. “No Pun Intended,” “See Through Head,” and “Love In Plaster” are the standout tracks, but the entire album is fantastic and lends itself well to obsessive listening and re-listening and…(Just ask my editor how long it took to get this review done.)
The Hives Tyrannosaurus Hives No Fun/Interscope (Universal) 9.5/10. Review by Andy Mussell.
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