The Hives: The Black and White Album

James Greene, Jr.

Sassy Swedes return with a slick new album with enough pep for three rallies. Scandinavian rock isn't dead yet.

The Hives

The Black and White Album

Label: Octone
US Release Date: 2007-11-13
UK Release Date: 2007-10-15

Of all the garage rock revival bands storming our musical beaches during this new millennium, the Hives are by far the sassiest. Part of it is the matching suits. Part of it is the infectious and repetitious riffing over kooky dance beats. Most of it, however, is their scissor-kicking front man, "Howlin'" Pelle Almqvist. Almqvist is quite possibly the sassiest human being alive. Sass oozes out of his every pore. It's genetically infused in his DNA. Almqvist probably can't even order a sandwich in a restaurant without waving his fork around like a lunatic, pointing at every waitress he sees, and scrunching his face up like he's negatively reacting to antihistamine.

Naturally, this extraordinary, almost obscene amount of sass has worked in the Hives' favor. It's given the Swedish rockers staying power and kept them visible on the international rock scene. Even before I received this album, I was acutely aware they were still doing stuff together as a band. I cannot say the same for their hipster contemporaries the Strokes or the Vines. I had to Wikipedia both those bands to verify they still existed in this dimension and had not been rocketed into one of our solar system's many black holes by the super-intelligent race of mole people who dwell beneath the surface of this doomed planet. It also turns out the White Stripes are not animated characters licensed to MTV by the Disney Corporation; they are, in fact, two real actual musicians from Detroit. Oh, the things you learn on the Internet.

Primarily produced by the Neptunes and Jacknife Lee, The Black and White Album comes off sounding slicker than a Slip n' Slide covered with ranch dressing. I want to say this goes against the Hives' rough-and-tumble punk roots, but if memory serves, these guys were only raw for one album (1997's Barely Legal). Since then, it's been all about sounding like a Verizon commercial/Hillary Duff movie trailer. You need that glossy sheen to produce such an efficient form of lip-sneering, booty-shaking rock music (you don't hear them playing the Blues Explosion at the Limited, do you?). You also need catchy melodies, which the Hives have in spades here. I defy even Al Gore to hear calculated rave-ups like "Try It Again" and "You Got It All... Wrong" and not at least tap his leaden, environmentally concerned foot. The polar ice caps are melting because of these hot jams, Al. That's a truth so inconvenient, even you can't handle it.

There are a few interesting left turns on Black and White. "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors" is an atmospheric organ-driven piece that sounds almost too gritty and real to have come from the likes of these impeccably tailored rock Vikings. Zippy white boy funk is stirred up in "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.", although it should be noted no clue is given as to what this awkward acronym could possibly stand for. The robotic "Giddy Up!" seems to be a Hives tribute to Devo. These deviations prove Fagersta's number one export is capable of operating outside the realm of cutesy, hand-clapping Cartoon Network rock. There wasn't really a need for these examples, but I suppose it's nice to know if we suddenly wake up tomorrow to find every copy of Freedom of Choice deleted from existence, the Hives might be able to fill the void.

Pardon me -- Randy Fitzsimmons, the fictional svengali who supposedly writes all the Hives' material, he might be able to fill the void. The world is still confused about all that. I'm sure it's just some kind of Swedish joke we're just not getting. We are talking about a unitary state with no official language, but five legally recognized minority languages (including Yiddish) and an unclear economic model. They also observe three completely different national holidays on one singular day in any given calendar year (April 30: Flag Day, Walpurgis Eve, and the King’s Birthday).

At least the music from Sweden is still making sense. With its spunky energy and grand polish, The Black and White Album should keep our favorite Scandinavian sass masters aloft on the modern rock wave for at least another year. If not, they can always go home and concoct more bizarre ways to joke and live in their generally neutral, liberal constitutional monarchy. Might I suggest a fourth observance for the last day of April? Randy Fitzsimmons Day? You may celebrate by wearing an expensive suit and waving a fork at a waitress.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.