Reviews

The Hives + The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Jessica Hodges
The Hives + The Soundtrack of Our Lives

The Hives + The Soundtrack of Our Lives

City: London
Venue: Brixton Academy
Date: 2002-05-04

The Hives
Photo credit: Kristian Anttila

The Soundtrack of Our Lives
There are two things you should know before reading this review. One, when Poptones released Your New Favourite Band I bought it and bought in. Two, this is the first gig I have actually purchased tickets for in eons… and I bought them three months ago, shortly after purchasing my new CD. Anyone reading this on Popmatters has, at one time or another, surely felt jaded. Too many bad gigs, too many pushy crowds, too much spilled beer. No, this does not mean I stopped seeing live music, it just means I usually only go if I'm comped. That may make me old, but it also makes me picky so when I say the show was good, you can know it means something. The recent onslaught of derivative retrogressive rock has revived many an old rock fan like me. Nu-metal was getting a lot of us down. The joy of hearing proper punk undertones played by young kids thrills 30 something London. The open arms embrace which bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes have been greeted with has no doubt be extended to the Hives and should be extended to their special guests as well. Opening the show at Brixton was the prog/punk rock fusion that is The Soundtrack of Our Lives (TSOOL). I know, I know that is an oxymoron. Punk was the answer to Prog, right? But there is a new generation in town. Dare I say it is the late Gen Xers with our multi-media capabilities that allow for such a contradiction to come together? Rock history is not being rewritten; it is just being re-lived. Those of us too young to have seen the Big Rock or the Punk Rock shows of the '70s may feel we missed something crucial. But the sound and the feel -- or at least the nostalgia for those times -- can now be indulged. I heard some one say that The Soundtrack of Our Lives are doing for the '70s what Oasis did for the '60s. They are too right. Let's just hope their egos don't eat them the way the G brothers' have. The six-man band, lead by a big hairy man (Ebbot Lundberg) wearing a muumuu, played a short and sweet set featuring their Big Rock tunes "21st Century Rip Off", "Sister Surround" and air-guitar must "Intra Riot". The rock star vogue-ing of guitarist Ian Persson increased the need to shake hair and play air. Drum sticks twirled and for a moment Brixton Academy was transformed into an arena. Could the Hives, with their own band of retro-fusion, follow up? Oh, yes, baby. It is of a different flavour, but the derivative sound of "Supply and Demand", and "a.k.a I-D-I-O-T" was satisfying live. Their UK release, a combination of three previous releases from Burning Hearts Records, takes derivative rock to a new level. Listening straight through you can hear the Stooges, Bad Religion, and Dick Dale. But, unlike the Strokes and often the White Stripes, the polish they have put on those sounds makes the music new and fresh, and undeniably theirs. Their use of theatre and humour, in everything they do, assures they won't be mistaken for wanna-bes or tribute artists. They know what they are doing and their purpose justifies the use of past sounds. The Hives may wear their influences on their well-tailored sleeves, but it never feels like a copy. What they lacked live was a depth to their sound, which TSOOL seem to have mastered. But while TSOOL's sound evoked nostalgia for a time and a place, the Hives set evoked nostalgia for their very own album. It was as if they wanted us to taste the goods, but know we could only get more at home. Lead singer Howlin Pelle Almqvist made up for any lack of phat sound with his commanding presence, self-promoting crowing, and spastic Jagger strutting. There was no need for fancy staging. The band was the spectacle in their black shirt and white ties with their name hanging over them in lights. It is obvious they love themselves and they knew we were there to love them too. The most breath taking moment of the show was a full stop in the middle of big hit "Main Offender". The band froze and the light dropped and with only a hint of smoke surrounding them, this Swedish band created an incredible picture on stage. The acknowledgment of the power of an image in a raw live set was breath taking. I for one have never seen a band use their live show to promote a visual image in quite the same way. The final number, "Hate to Say I Told You So" left me gasping but satisfied. . With tongues firmly in their cheeks, the Hives gave London what it wanted on a Saturday night and they did not try for more. The short set, like their short album, suits them. They wound the London audience up, but did not take the piss. They gave us the hits and not much more. They walked off satisfied and sent us home smiling.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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