The Black and White Album – The Hives

The Black and White Album

The Hives

A & M / Octone


The Black and White Album, the fourth full length by Swedish rockers The Hives was one of those records that I was looking forward to for such a long time.  Being a fan since 2000’s Veni Vidi Vicious, The Hives were one of those “The” bands that prompted my twelve-year-old former self to begin listening to new music.  I was immediately found in a wash of those musical acts that all were becoming big for those first few years of the new millenium: The Hives, The Vines (who I admit, were / are my favorite), The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Donnas.  Some of these I didn’t quite enjoy until years later when I began to understand just how talented and important they are to this generation.  However, The Hives were my gateway into this music scene, and so it’s easy to understand why I looked forward to the release of this fourth disc in 2007.

As a kid, The Hives represented everything about what I wanted from rock music.  They were brash, jocular, rebellious guys who wrote brash, jocular, and rebellious songs.  Their short, half-punk, half-rock songs sounded easily banged out and energetic.  Which they were.  The Hives were a band that would use four power chords to write a two-minute garage song, and then tell the world no one would ever be bigger then them.  Although their sound has developed over the years, this credo has always stayed the same, which is apparent on The Black and White Album.

Beginning with “Tick Tick Boom,” the album starts out with the all-out frenetic single which would shoot the band back into the limelight.  Seriously, I couldn’t get away from this song.  It was played for what seems like every ten minutes on the radio station at my job.  Not to mention the video for it was on every channel a thousand times (Ok, I’m exaggerating – I’m sure The Weather Channel only played it, maybe five hundred times).  When the song starts, the audience learns that it’s all energy for the whole three minutes.  However, it’s a much cleaner sound than The Hives’ earlier work, much more… ok, I’ll use the term mature, although that’s a horrible adjective to assign to this band.  Really, if you haven’t heard this song at all, you have no reason reading about it.  The only thing that I’ll say is that their “tick, tick, tick” etc. section always throws me off with how many times Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist repeats it. 

The second song, “Try It Again,” keeps the energy moving right along.  This is probably their second biggest song on the album, featured on so many commercials (the latest of which is the decent USA show White Collar).  While the lyrics could’ve used some more work (The chorus is a dreary “You get up, you get down, and you try it again” and he actually utters the phrase “They say the definition of madness is doing the same and expecting a different result”), Almqvist sing with such tremendosity (which I’m pretty sure I just made up), that it doesn’t matter.  He’s backed up by cheerleaders during the chorus – actually the squad from the University of Mississippi – which is a pretty awesome background singing idea.  Oh, I just looked at the lyrics in the liner notes.  I always thought that he was singing “Do I go?” at the top of his lungs at the end.  Apparently, the official lyrics are “Doo wacko!”  Oh, those Hives…

“You Got it All.. Wrong” is the third track on the album.  Again, the energy is set high, and the band doesn’t fail us.  Nicholaus Arson and Vigilante Carlstroem lead us in with giant-sounding power chords.  A keyboard is featured during the bridge adding a different level of sound to the band’s arsenal.  This keyboard becomes a regular during this album (well, maybe not that exact keyboard, but I just meant that type of sound), for this record has an 80’s dance vibe to it, almost.  It’s like The Hives took their garage-punk and made it listen to Arena Rock for a whole year.  But yeah, the song features the band’s signature mocking lyrics and poppy melodies. 

“Well All Right!” is a more laid-back (hahaha, The Hives being laid-back) groove filled throwback song.  The band sings backup response to Pelle’s screeching vocals.  This consists of “Whoo-hoo!” and “Well, all right!” Dr. Matt Destruction’s bass bounces around following Chris Dangerous’ cool drums.  Then a surprising turn is taken when the band drops out, into a totally different slower section.  It shows a more developed, and well-written song structure.  The lyrics are really clever, as well; I love “Trying to grow a beard but still look cute.”  The track ends with nothing but drums, hand-clapping, and the persistent vocals.

“Hey Little World” features some good guitar riffs, and background cowbells.  The verses unfortunately make the song one of the more forgettable songs on the album.  However, the chorus with its major hook nearly redeems this quality.  It’s not a great song, and turns out to be filler – filler that still is entertaining.

The sixth song, “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors” takes The Hives quirkiness to a whole new level.  It’s nothing more than an old ’60’s organ and drum machine playing a jazzy tune.  It is, I believe, what one would hear walking through a mansion that The Hives would own.  It’s not too much of a song, so much as the band showing that they’re cocky.  They are so unbelievably cocky that they’re willing to put this in the middle of their album.

Luckily, we jump right into the different-sounding “Won’t Be Long.”  The rhythmic guitar compliments the keyboard effect underneath it.  However, the spotlight is again on Howlin’ Pelle as he sings in a whole different manner.  Instead of his normal high screeching, he is heard in a lower register to provide another approach to their musical tastes.  Of course, it’s improbable for him to continue in that voice, so every now and then it’ll crack.  This actually provides a good effect, grounding the song back to their normal musical ideas as they go off to explore.  The chorus, “Got me a ticket and it won’t be long  ’cause I can’t go on […]” is so utterly mind-blowing.  The Hives doing arena rock.  It’s such a… ballsy move that it works.

I wish that “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” was put directly after the instrumental track, for it follows the same mood.  Produced by Pharrell, the song does have some aspects of hip-hop in it.  The danceable groove provides a perfect setting for some funky falsetto singing.  This leads to the chorus which consists of “We rule the world” and the band’s name spelled out.  Come on, this just proves my point that The Hives don’t give a damn.  It’s purely them being awesome.

“Return the Favour” brings back the hard-hitting garage rock that The Hives are so great at.  The song isn’t particularly groundbreaking in any way, and it’s not even a highlight of this album.  The lyrics have the band singing about how they “have little to next to nothing to talk about.”  But it’s an uptempo, energetic song that shows the band in their comfort zone.  It doesn’t need to be any more.

“Giddy Up!” brings back the grooving rhythms of previous songs.  It’s a fun song, but lacks the extra push that’s needed to make it a great song.  As it is, it’s probably my least favorite on the album, consisting of cliché lyrics, and a thousand annoying “Giddy up’s” thrown in.  Plus the guitar solo really sucks.

“Square One Here I Come” is exactly the type of clever title that The Hives need to write a good job.  The music is rapturous; power chords, riffs, and really great drumming.  The lyrics (by the mysterious Randy Fitzsimmons, as all of the songs are) follow a cause-and-effect line of reasoning, creating a perfect slacker song.  It’s catchy, it’s aggressive, it’s filled with the quirkiness that The Hives love.  The dynamics are so animated during the brief track, that it leads right into the next song.

“You Dress Up for Armageddon” has a great title again.  I really appreciate the image that it provides.  The opening riff is instantly recognizable as long as you’ve heard the song more than once.  Which you will, because it’s a track that bears being repeated.  The vocals offer more of a cheerleading vibe at the “rod, rod, baby, rod, rod” part.  Again, the dynamics leading into the chorus build the song up, and won’t let you down.  The chorus itself sounds like a drunken sing-along, going back to the guitar riff.  The ending sounds like they didn’t want the song to finish, so they just throw in some ascending chords and leave it at that.  It’s a great, harsh ending to such an aggressive track.

And now for “Puppet on a String.”  They must’ve been listening to Modest Mouse while writing this song; Howlin’ Pelle sounds like he’s channeling Isaac Brock (even though he’s not really dead currently).  With cynical lyrics like “Got your education from just hangin’ around, you got your brain from a hole in the ground” there is no way one can’t sound like Modest Mouse while singing this song.  However, if the ironic-rockers Modest Mouse actually had the attitude that The Hives do, they wouldn’t be so depressing.  (Wow, that turned out to more of a rant about Modest Mouse than the actual song.  Oh well, it’s not my fault that Brock is a d-bag, and The Hives are awesome.)

Lastly is “Bigger Hole to Fill.”  Leading off with pounding bass and steady drums, it sounds like the band is trying to write a straight-ahead ’70’s rock tune (Complete with a powerful riff).  The singing reverts back to a lower pitch for most of the song, which doesn’t really work too well.  It’s unfortunately one of the weaker tracks on the album.  But after thirteen other powerful songs, we can give the band a break. 

When this album came out, The Hives returned to a popularity not seen since “Hate to Say I Told You So.”  Which they totally deserve.  This album not only contains their previous style of asskicking punk, but also develops their sense of exploration.  They jump from genre to genre while always writing entertaining rock songs.  They also bring a sense of amusement that no other band is able to brag about – and brag about it, they do.  They’ve earned the rights; The Black and White Album lives completely up to The Hives’ breakout album seven years later.  Hopefully, whatever their next album entails will continue to be bombastic and aggressive.

Buy This Album

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One Response to “The Black and White Album – The Hives”

  1. Atila Dias Says:

    “doo wacko”? I don’t get it. What it means?

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