Other reads: MELT

Read the story I wrote about The Hives for the March issue of MELT after the jump.

Look at the New England Patriots. They were so close to a perfect season but were unable to pull it off in the very last game. Yeah, it may have been the most important game of the season, but that shouldn’t discount anything they did leading up to the Super Bowl.

The Hives latest, The Black and White Album, has been decried by longtime fans of the punk band as inconsistent after nearly a decade of surefire winners, though that’s not to say The Black and White Album isn’t loaded up with greatest hits type material. Quite the contrary, with a majority of the band’s finest material found on the first half of The Black and White Album which was, tongue in cheek, originally going to be called The World’s First Perfect Album.

Opening track “Tick Tick Boom” is as explosive as it’s title – raw guitar blasts from the same vault that the New Bomb Turks used to pilfer from mixed with a chorus of sneering “YEAHS!” that rain down throughout the song. It the snottiest three-and-a-half minutes of raucous rocking you’ll hear on the radio this year – CD101 has been giving the song regular spins. Track 3, “You Got it All … Wrong”, sounds like a mash-up of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and local indie rock heroes, 84 Nash, singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s vocals scratchy and raw on the album’s shortest song. Though Almqvist has a unique style of his own, he does have the nuances of other singers and there are moments on “Hey Little World” that sound more like a Danko Jones track than some of Danko Jones tracks do!

A sign that things aren’t going to play out exactly as expected with The Hives happens just about halfway through the album with the interlude – the cheeky, lyric less, ’70s horror-film sounding,  “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors”.

As can be expected by bands signed to major labels (of which The Hives are signed to Interscope), The Hives’ past accomplishments, such as succeeding in a radio market that typically would never embrace a band inspired by a cross section of music history (soul, garage, punk, pop), may have led to greater demands from the folks signing their checks. The pressure to continue to sell records often leads bands into the open arms of “hot” producers and The Hives turned to Dennis Herring (Counting Crows, Modest Mouse), Pharrell Williams (N.E.R.D.), Jacknife Lee (Snow Patrol), and Timbaland when working on The Black and White Album (Timbaland’s work didn’t make it onto the album).

The most notable fingerprints were left by Williams whose work on the dance-ready “T.H.E.I.V.E.S.” includes hip-hop beats and new wave-style keyboards. It’s one of the biggest detours from the band’s previous work and, along with “Puppet on a String” featuring just vocals, piano, and handclaps, could have been trimmed from the album making for a more consistent listen. Then again, working more towards a pop sound helped push The Hives into a pretty prolific opening gig late last year when the Swedish punkers known for their stylish dress codes were tapped to support frat-rockers Maroon 5 on a tour on basketball arenas across the U.S.

Don’t expect a Maroon 5 audience at the Newport where The Hives will return to doing what they do best – delivering a high-octane performance, while look damn good, as part of a bill much more suited to the business of rocking AND rolling. Joined by ’80s-influenced hard rock queens The Donnas, who know a thing or two about rocking themselves, The Hives might have a little bit to prove to those put off by the experimentation of The Black and White Album, but there is little doubt they’ll have a better chance of doing that than Tom Brady had of pulling out a last second touchdown past in the Super Bowl to preserve the Patriots undefeated season.

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