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The Hives

Barely LegalA.K.A. I.D.I.O.T. EP

(Epitaph; US: 26 Oct 2004; UK: 31 Dec 1969)

The first thing you absolutely must understand about the Hives is that they are liars. They will tell you that they are the greatest rock and roll band in the world, if not the entire universe, but they’re not. Even if you’re being generous, they still aren’t at the top of most people’s lists. But you shouldn’t hold their ambition against them: without their ambition, the Hives would be nothing.


If they aren’t the best rock and roll band, what are they? They are certainly the most determined. The Hives’ mythology is almost as complex as the White Stripes’, but whereas Jack and Meg carry themselves with a slightly repugnant disinterest, the Hives are 100% invested in themselves and every facet of their collective careers. Some have likened them to punk and some to the recent garage revival, but the fact is that the Hives peg doesn’t really fit into any of these holes. The closest thing the Hives approach is—to nick a phrase from Grant Morrison—a kind of Zen Fascism.


If history has taught us anything, it is that the kind of perpetual revoltuion promised by Communist idealogues inevitably devolves into fascistic totalitarianism. On a slightly smaller scale we have also seen this in the world of punk, as the freewheelin’ spirit of ‘77 eventually gave way to the rigid orthodoxy of Dischord. The Hives take this momentum one step further: their philosophy is not merely one of exclusivity, it is utter anihilation: if you are not with the Hives, you are against the Hives. If you do not bow before the greatness of the Hives, you will be destroyed by the sheer awesomeness of their mighty sonic assault.


Admittedly, attitude can get you far in the world of rock and roll. They make an impressive spectacle because they are as tight a group as I have seen in many years. They have obviously spent many, many long hours practicing, trying to achieve the kind of martial precision you expect from old-school thrash metal or German techno. No one in the group stands out as a virtuoso, and I think there’s a very good reason for that. For the same reasons that the Hives have always worn matching clothes, in order to accentuate their cohesion as a unit, they emphasise their sonic unity.


Barely Legal and the A.K.A. I.D.I.O.T. EP take the listener back to a time before the Hives were quite as precise as they are now. The energy is still there, but there isn’t as much focus, and this is what makes the albums such a joy to experience. The energy here has a hint of actual danger to it, like the best punk, that comes from a freewheeling and vaguely menacing subtext. As cool as the Hives are now, they have succeeded in scrubbing nearly all of the rough edges from their sound. These discs, originally released seven years ago, present the band in a looser and far more jagged form.


These discs have been released and re-released numerous times throughout the past few years. It seems like every time the Hives have had a new album to promote, they get someone to release their old catalog all over again. I can understand the logic, because it seems as if the Hives have been on the perpetual cusp of breaking through to the Big Time ever since they first crossed the ocean from Sweden back in ‘02. But I have a feeling that the Hives will never quite succeed in finding the large audience they feel they deserve: the fact is that they ask too much from their audiences. Total musical subservience is more than most people are willing to give.


If you get these discs, you need to pay attention to tracks like “I’m a Wicked One” and “What’s That Spell? Go to Hell!” Here you can see the Hives in their full, bloody majesty, avatars of sonic fascism with the swagger of young Mick Jaggers. They may not be the best rock band in the world, but they do know how to rock better than just about anyone else I can think of. To paraphrase Brian Wilson, they just weren’t made for these times.

Tagged as: the hives
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