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The Hives - The Black And White Album Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 December 2007

Everything that was horrible about this month's listening experience (think Duran Duran's new pile on the carpet) was suddenly washed clean. I put on The Black and White Album by the Hives, turned it up (in this instance “up” means really, really, really loud), and 30 seconds into the opener, “Tick Tick Boom,” all that awfulness was forgotten. I was jumping around the living room and wishing my legs were still skinny enough for a pair of black stove pipe pants.

The Black and White Album is so good, in that fuzz-drenched guitar, pounding caveman drums, “the cops are here” garage anthem way, I've forgiven the friends who recommended Red Carpet Mess. This is the way it's supposed to be. This is rock music. It's as loud and snotty as your sister's best friend. It's cruising in dad's car with only a learner's permit. It's singing in front of your friends even though your voice sounds like glass fingernails on a chalkboard. As a matter of fact, it rocks so hard that after five songs they throw in an odd little cheapo keyboard-driven instrumental, “A Stroll Through the Hive Manor Corridors,” in order to allow you to catch your breath. And you don't mind because you need the oxygen. That's five, count 'em, five songs in a row that make you wish you'd seen the Who at the Marquee or been at the first Ramones gig or perhaps the St. Martins college show that introduced the Sex Pistols and the pogo to the world.
While listening to the second cut, “Try It Again,” I remember cutting off my shirt sleeves after hearing the first XTC record, or was it the Damned? Actually I don't remember but that's okay because this isn't about thinking, it's about that other part of the brain. The red meat side. And if the sing-along chorus of “Hey Little World” evokes memories of Kiss it's only because Kiss is really good at writing the sing-along chorus. And maybe because these guys dress up too. But that doesn't matter because I'm too busy not thinking. “Whatcha gonna do/anyone of you/whatcha gonna do/when they come for you?” Should I be paying attention? Naw, I'm rockin'.

After the instrumental break the Hives hit you with “Won't Be Long” and you start to wonder how long it's been since you've heard an album with this many totally killer songs on it. Then you wonder how long it been since you last used the phrase “totally killer.” Shoot -- when was the last time a group called a release “an album”? And Not only is The Black and White Album awesome but it's taking on the powers of the fountain of youth. It's not only my thoughts that are travelling back but some of my aches and pains are disappearing and my skin is tightening up a bit.

And then after the “Prince-meets-the-mid-'60s”-flavored “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” they unleash “Return the Favour” and I'm as happy as I've been this year. Sound and fury indeed. If you don't like this song you don't remember what it's like to be my age. Like when that guy tried to grab my best friend Ozzie's guitar and Ozzie donked him in the forehead and kept on playing. So sweet. Once again it's the Pistols meet XTC meet New York 1977. And with a wordless Springsteen chorus thrown in as if it needed something else to make it one of the best songs I've heard this year.

And if the next tune “Giddy-Up!” is a trifle I can easily overlook it's because I sense they're going to kick my ass royally at least three more times (“Square One Here I Come,” “You Dress Up for Armageddon,” “Bigger Hole to Fill”) before this little beauty ends. For some unexplainable reason “Bigger Hole” reminds me of early Alice Cooper … maybe it is explainable because of my feeling 18 again. I feel sweaty and pimply and wish my dad was still around so I could tell him that he just! doesn't! understand!

But I understand. The Black and White Album takes me back to the days I thrashed around in my checkered Vans and broke shit that I wouldn't miss anyway. And it forces me to recognize that those days aren't over, I just haven't been letting myself dance free lately. The Hives have cleared my thoughts and washed away the bad taste of crappy music. Life, like The Black and White Album, is sweet.

This album is well mixed and well played. It's warm in that analog way although it's way too clean to have been recorded to tape. I didn't even bother to check out who produced it, recorded it, or any of that stuff, because I just don't care. I didn't even bother to read the digital booklet that came with the download. It sounds great and whoever you are you did a great job. I rolled down my windows when I drove this around my neighborhood. I wish I still had an anarchy bumper sticker on my car so the people who were staring knew where I was coming from. Well, that was five cars ago but you get the idea. It's rock music and the louder you go the better. I listened to The Black and White Album on my iPhone while eating breakfast at the local spot this morning. It was my own perfect soundtrack in a totally incongruous setting.

Extra Features
The iTunes version of The Black and White Album (here's an extra feature you don't often see, especially on such a kick-ass album: it's only $7.99 at iTunes) has the bonus cut, “Fall is Just Something Grownups Invented,” which sounds very Clash to me. I really can't pay any higher praise to a band than to compare them in any way to the Clash, and maybe they don't have the political or ethical fervor, but it's a start. I hope they don't let me down.

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