The Hives’ color scheme is black and white, this time around finds them in matching school-boy uniforms, and their music, a hybrid of The Rolling Stones attitude with the energy of The Ramones, has previously been as simple, straightforward, and basic as the terms imply. Being the playful rascals that they are, leave it to them to name their new release The Black and White Album when they experiment and expand their musical palette.
The band opens up full throttle with “Tick Tick Boom,” knocking your socks off right from the start. It is typical Hives in-your-face rock and roll: wild guitars, a driving rhythm section, and Pelle Almqvist earning his nickname by Howlin' out the lyrics, written as always by honorary sixth Hive, the talented Randy Fitzsimmons.
“You Got It All…Wrong” finds the band shifting into fifth gear and doesn't let up. “Well All Right!” barely offers a breather, slightly slower to what came before with a brief respite in the middle before picking up the pace again.
Coming at almost the halfway point, “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors” is a mysterious, unusual song. A spooky organ playing over a drum machine offers an instrumental as an intriguing transition through the looking glass, at times revealing a different band.
“Won’t Be Long” is reminiscent of the recent wave of nu-‘80s music of bands like The Bravery. “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” has a funky bass line and Pelle’s howl becomes a falsetto. No surprise that this is one of the tracks that Pharrell Williams produced.
“Return The Favor” finds the band’s typical sound return, as if someone left a door to the Hive Manor Corridor open and we can hear where the journey began. The door is slammed shut on “Giddy Up!” as drum machines and odd background vocals visit Devo terrain. It’s possible to forget whose album it is, but two classic Hives-sounding songs, “Square One Here I Come” and “You Dress Up For Armageddon,” shake you out what must surely have been a dream. These two no-nonsense tracks get back to basics.
Another turn down the corridor reveals “Puppet on a String.” Weird piano, screwy vocal choices, and all sorts of bizarre background noises make this a really odd selection, more a strange novelty just to be strange. “Bigger Hole To Fill” closes out the album returning to the nu-80s sounds they flirted with earlier.
The Black and White Album finds The Hives moving out of the garage and into the studio. The new sounds don’t always work as well as the rock ones they are known for and excel at, but some certainly do, and artists should always be given room to grow. There’s plenty of what fans like about The Hives on the album, and with 50% more music than on their previous two releases, there’s nothing lost in their trying something different.