Music

The Hives: Lex Hives

Lex Hives is a real disappointment, as if they’ve forked out a fortune fitting electric doors to their tiny, untidy garage and then thrown out all the amps in favour of a mid-life-crisis-mobile.


The Hives

Lex Hives

Label: Disques Hives
US Release Date: 2012-06-05
UK Release Date: 2012-06-04
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Do you remember the Hives? No? Well, you probably should, because once upon a time they audaciously demanded to be your new favourite band. Whether or not they’ve managed to hang on to that title is another matter entirely. After all, that was the beginning of the century. Times have certainly changed, and they have had to face up to garage rock revivalism’s fall out of favour, as if the listening public suddenly developed a morbid fear of guitars. This means that they seem even more out of place than they did a decade ago. Back then they were, you know, being retro. They had a strong, smartass aesthetic – suited and booted throwbacks to another world, another music industry. Nowadays, though, they seem retro twice-over, retro-twice removed. And, unfortunately, Lex Hives shows them up as a mere mirage: a fantasy band from a fantasy 1960s refracted through the warped double glazing of the early 21st century.

On Lex Hives, we're supposed to see the band stripping back the approach they went for on 2007’s The Black and White Album. They’ve kicked out all the producers and engineers (like Pharrell Williams and Jacknife Lee) whose presence cluttered that album up. Instead, they’ve preferred to produce the record themselves in the self-styled "Hive Manor" in the name of stripping back the sound. But, really it doesn’t look like they’ve done much stripping back at all, and it all seems geared towards the idea of progression without ever making it clear what it is they're progressing towards.

One thing is made very clear on Lex Hives: the opulent Hive Manor is a long way from the grimy garage. It all seems too clean, too polished, and too shiny. Now and then, there are little hints of the raw power of their early work. But generally it all seems so sadly professional. It pilfers bits and pieces from pop music’s past, mining some dirty hard rock on “I Want More”, stealing lines from the Paul Weller Songbook on “These Spectacles Reveal The Nostalgics” and picking and choosing from rather traditional punk rock (“Patrolling Days”), new wave (“Wait a Minute”), and even a bit of gospel (“Without the Money”) along the way. This would be all well and good if the tunes were there. But they just aren’t. There’s nothing as madly memorable as their early stuff, and even the addition of blaring saxophones on closer “Midnight Shifter” can’t push it into the red.

Ultimately the title “These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics” says it all. It’s too easy to differentiate between all the musical ingredients, too easy to see how the plan unfolds, too easy to see that lots of their ideas are long past their sell-by date. All the edges are smoothed out, refined, turned into a strange, lumpy paste. It’s as if they’re a bit too old to really go all out with the bratty blasts of punk noise that we once knew and loved.

It’s a real shame, as if they’ve forked out a fortune fitting electric doors to their tiny, untidy garage and then thrown out all the amps in favour of a mid-life-crisis-mobile. Just note how the promise of snarling, gnarly opener “Come On!” is left unfulfilled. In typically Hives-style, it only just breaks the minute mark, while, on the other hand, mid-album, we get “Patrolling Days”, which goes on for a whole four minutes, racking up more time than any other song the band have ever recorded.

Basically, Hive Manor is just an excuse for the band to give us a guided tour through the Hives’ Hall of Influences. Once upon a time, the band themselves would have been happy to damage the exhibits and deface the busts. But, on Lex Hives, all we’re left with is a snarkily written full-colour brochure. As much as they’ve tried to sound like their dragging their sound back to basics, it sounds like they’ve lost something along the way. Who knows if they’ll ever get it back.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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