Let's end the suspense early in this review: I'm happy to report that the latest from the Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives, is a worthy successor to their 2000 Eurogarage coming-out party, Veni Vidi Vicious. There. We can all rest easy.
Despite sounding nothing alike, the Hives, with this new album, find themselves in the same boat the White Stripes were in last year. Both bands have murky backstories -- the Stripes, with their whole brother/sister thing, while the Hives claim to have been formed, boy-band-esque, and dressed in matching black and white outfits by a never-seen, string-pulling guru named Randy Fitzsimmons; both toiled in relative obscurity for an album or two, honing their craft until their breakout album (White Blood Cells and Veni..., respectively) bubbled up into the mainstream by dint of high-energy songs and good timing (the turn of the century garage explosion); both now have released follow-up albums that may not beat (for lack of a better word) their breakthrough records, but are natural evolutions of each band's sound -- the mark of a career act. The Hives are here to stay.
The Hives have always had swagger and style to burn; we're reminded early of that fact, with T. Hives' cover. The band -- Nicholaus Arson, Chris Dangerous, Dr. Matt Destruction, Vigilante Carlstroem and Howlin' Pelle Almqvist -- stare you down in their matching suits, each with a Colonel Sanders string tie and faces that read "Yeah, we know we rock." Of course, the band proceeds to deliver the good for all of T. Hives' 30-minute run time. Opener "Abra Cadaver" is a cleaner-sounding versions of Veni Vidi Vicious's blueprint -- Arson and Carlstroem's chiming guitars, lead singer Almqvist's howls; the band isn't making wholesale changes to their sound -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it -- but they are expanding on their sonic palette. Again, it speaks to the band's evolution, though that being the case, the album title is a tad ironic, no?
Internet rumors (fueled by Randy Fitzsimmons?) that the band had been influenced by the mechanical sounds of Kraftwerk turn out to be... true. The first single, the masterful "Walk Idiot Walk", boasts a mechanical strut that does battle with Matt Destruction's prowling, hungry bass line. "See Through Head" swarms like killer bees, while Almqvist shrieks "You wanna cut a piece of cake, you gotta have a bit of blade." "Love in Plaster" can also trace its circuitry back to krautrock, with its keyboard drone and Almqvist's tight, pinched vocals.
Other new sounds yield interesting results as well. "A Little More for Little You" starts out vaguely like reggae, then morphs into a blues stomp with frenetic guitars blasts and a singalong chorus about workers' right to strike. (Thematically, the tune fits in nicely with Veni's "Statecontrol" and "Supply and Demand".) "B is for Brutus" is a lumbering, fuzzed out tale of betrayal; it's so heavy, it sounds like it could be the title track. The least successful experiment -- call it this album's "Find Another Girl" -- is "Diabolic Scheme", which tries to marry Almqvist at his yellingest (OK) to a skronky guitar solo (so far, so good) and a string section (you've lost me). The song seems to be about the band's rise to the top, but the lyrics fall thick out of Almqvist's mouth and the strings never sound at home with the rest of the band.
That said, there's still plenty of straightforward, "Hives-y" songs on T. Hives: the jangly, bouncy "Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones"; the strutting "Missing Link" and "Antidote" (Does any active band strut better than the Hives right now? They're cocksure, but, daaamn they've got the chops to back it up); and the vitriolic "Dead Quote Olympics", where Almqvist takes a guy who quotes famous dead people too often to task: "You know it don't make you clever like you thought it would."
The Hives created their own universe on Veni Vidi Vicious, an album so fully-realized and near-perfectly executed that it ranks as the best album of the 21st century garage revival scene. Tyrannosaurus Hives lacks its predecessor's cohesive vision, but it finds the band in excellent form, exploring universes beyond their own. One of the year's best.