Released: Monday 4 June 2012
The Hives have come a long way since Alan McGee decided 'Hate to Say I Told You So' should be the indie-disco smash of 2000. Well, okay, maybe they haven't: While sharp-suited garage rock has gone out of fashion, The Hives have stayed true to their tailor and their Stooges records. Their first post-hype record, Tyrannosaurus Hives, was their best, with a smattering of great rock'n'roll numbers; 2007's Black and White Album was brasher and less consistent. Hopes for Lex Hives were never going to be stratospheric, which is a good thing.
First song 'Come On!' features frontman 'Howlin' Pelle Almqvist singing the words "Come on", again and again over a generic garage-rock backing. At the halfway mark there are some cheesy crowd-cheering sounds, to let us know that we, the audience, should be getting excited. It's almost, almost, unforgivable - if a local band had done this I would have felt duty-bound to seek them out and murder them in their sleep - but The Hives have always been likeable and Almqvist pronounces each "On!" ("Awwnh!") with just the right amount of David Johansen snarl. But what I'm saying is, just because The Hives have enough bratty charm (just) to pull this off, doesn't mean they should be aiming so low.
Lead single 'Go Right Ahead' is scarcely more ambitious - the band's devotion to classic rock riffing and nursery-rhyme vocal hooks has a certain obstinate charm, but does it also hint at a misguided obligation to try and replicate 'Hate to Say I Told You So' every time a new album gets made? From a band that's always recognised the innate value of stock chords and dumb lyrics, it's very hard to say.
Luckily, next song, '1000 Answers' is a bit of a corker. The band are always at their best when their impeccable influences are coming through at full force, and '1000 Answers' is like The Gun Club and Rocket From the Crypt bopping around a methamphetamine lab. This is followed by the weird 'I Want More', in which Almqvist affects Mark E Smith's monotone drone before the band inexplicably break out a rough approximation of the riff from Joan Jett's 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll'.
'Wait a Minute' is the kind of Devo meets 80s-power-ballad mash-up which probably shouldn't work but does, although points must be taken off for some unsubtle, over-clean production. And after that, although the last few tracks are stronger, it's Hives-by-numbers. The band clearly enjoy replicating the sound of Memphis garage bands like The Oblivians and The Compulsive Gamblers on 'Patrolling Days' and 'Without The Money' but the songs lack spark and the production is still too crass and clean.
There's still plenty to love about the Hives. All the jibes that get thrown their way - that they're cartoonish, or retrograde - just make me like them even more. Aren't all the best rock bands a bit cartoonish? And who cares about being retrograde when the influences are so great, and the whole thing is pulled off with such enthusiasm? On the other hand, it's hard to deny a trend of diminishing returns from the last couple of albums, and unless they can pull their socks up, the day when The Hives are just a great live band may not be far away.