Usually, it's not such a good thing when an artist takes four years to deliver their second major-label album. In the intervening time, fans can outgrow what they used to love, musical tides can shift, and the public can just plain forget what made a group so special.
But for artists in search of a new beginning, waiting nearly a half-decade to return to the public's consciousness can be a risk worth taking. Re-enter Swedish rockers the Hives.
When the band toured behind its 2000 album, Veni Vidi Vicious (re-released in 2002), the music community was celebrating the Swedish garage-rock scene and placed the Hives at the head of a pack that rightfully or wrongfully included Division of Laura Lee, Soundtrack of Our Lives, the (International) Noise Conspiracy, Citizen Bird and Sahara Hotnights. The Hives' music was a snarling garagefest influenced by the Stooges, the Sonics and the Nuggets box set, yet the band felt uncomfortable being grouped into a regional or sonic movement, so the guys took some time off to wait for the hype to die down.
During that time, the band contemplated ways to shake up its sound without losing any of the raw immediacy that made the music so compelling. Since the Hives operated from the gut and the groin, and their primal pummeling makes you want to move, not think, they had to come up with something more intricate that didn't seem more involved.
Judging from 12 rough mixes recorded on May 3, the Hives' upcoming third album, due in July, will be the electric door opener that allows the band to blast its music out of the garage and into the street. The band still draws from some of its favorite '60s and '70s acts, but it also incorporates new influences, including T. Rex, Wire, Devo, the Who, the Rolling Stones and even Electric Light Orchestra. Equally impressive, the Hives have learned how to implement dynamic atmospheres and multi-dimensional arrangements while still sounding thuggish.
Throughout the record, the band's guitarists explore point/counterpoint rhythm structures, in which one often plays a constant, straightforward riff and the other augments it with angular bursts and complementary stabs. Sometimes the beat is staggered to give the songs a lunging feel. On "See Through Head" the Hives interrupt propulsive guitar downstrokes with tinny riff fragments before glam-rock handclaps and pounding drums clash with single plucked notes and shuffling maracas. "Love + Plaster" is new wave and robotic, with spacey gurgling effects and resentment-riddled vocals: "I really thought we had something more than a violation/ My imagination."
Even when the vocals turn bitter, the music is consistently upbeat. Whether countering a Ramones-style rhythm with electronic drum clatter on "Dead Pool Olympics" or mixing a driving rhythm with surf-rock guitar on "Keel Hauling Class of '89," the Hives are there to have a blast, and if they turn conventional wisdom upside-down in the process, so much the better.
Despite their best efforts to separate themselves from the pack, the Hives' album will hit stores within a few months of new offerings by Sahara Hotnights, Division of Laura Lee, Soundtrack of Our Lives and the (International) Noise Conspiracy.