“I’m stuck in ways of sadistic joy / My talent only goes as far as to annoy.”
The genres known as power-pop and punk-pop have come to be as blandly entwined, in this country, as the Republican and Democratic parties: little separates the cloying, coldly energetic tricks these two musics both increasingly employ. Muddied by generic teen-pop on its left flank, the self-absorbed “emo” on its right, the domestic version of these two p-ps sounds like a sliver of its former self. In foreign lands, however, the music retains its energy, the payoff coming in the ferocity of feeling invested in each horserace of a song. Hotbeds of this kind of sing-along punk rock include Japan—home of the leatherclad roar of Thee Michelle Gun Elephant—and Sweden, home to a large punk-pop contingent. (Including Detroit in a list of “foreign lands” allows the acknowledgement of that city’s fertile scene.) Like Thee Michelle Gun, the Hives merge an American style of music (the loud, fast, melodic punk of bands like the Ramones) with more bite than over-lauded American acts like the Strokes have been providing recently.
How can we tell that the Hives are rock ‘n’ roll? The title’s a good hint: classical, but slightly silly. So’s the band photo: black suits, white shirts, white shoes. Very stylish. The Hives uses its members’ names for an added gloss on the band’s calculatedly cool image: Vigilante Carlstroem, Nicholaus Arson, Dr. Matt Destruction, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, Chris Dangerous. There’s nothing distinctively Swedish about the Hives, unless pent-up energy and a touch of aggression are common in a country that can see up to 24 hours of daylight, some days of the year, and 24 hours of darkness on others.
Veni, Vidi, Vicious begins with a riff of echoey strumming that sounds like the opening chords of a surf-guitar Halloween anthem. After a fade at 10 seconds, the riff comes back to life as a stuttering, metallic 1-2-3 behind the rhythmic singing—near-spoken in the verses, wavering around a harsh melody in the choruses—for a one-and-a-half-minute freight train. (A feedback drenched ending adds a nice touch.) That pattern, repeated throughout Veni‘s 12 tracks, continues to be suprememly successful in grabbing—and keeping—the listener’s attention.
Tracks like the pounding “Main Offender” and the choppy “Supply and Demand” benefit from a grasp of details—the handclaps, the occasional electronic squeal or shimmering organ tone—that distinguishes each song, despite the band’s relentless pace. Only “Find Another Girl” hits the brakes, for a synthesizer-driven samba. Vocalist Almqvist packs his two minute blitzkriegs with so many words that he can barely contain them in sentence form. “Outsmarted” begins with a zigzag guitar buzz and a series of truncated yelps: “I use to be the kid who always got caught / I used to be the one who never let thought / Interact one bit with / Intellectual shit, diversity and wit.” When Almqvist shrieks, “I’m gonna lie, I’m gonna cheat,” he’s so convincing that you might begin looking around for shifty looking Swedes. Lines like “And it’s a get together to tear it apart / Gave my middle finger a brand new start” succeed in mirroring the music’s exuberant brattiness.
Packing 12 songs into 27 minutes (only two tracks are over three minutes long; four of them are shorter than two), Veni doesn’t waste any time in making its point. While brevity alone isn’t automatically a virtue, the songs here contain enough ample surprises, and hidden rewards, that there’s nothing lacking even as the Hives smartly employ the logic of “always leave them wanting more.”