The Hives' new CD evokes '70s new wave, keeps energy flowing

New on CD

Music: in concert, CDs

July 22, 2004|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,LOS ANGELES TIMES

One reason this Swedish quintet was such a refreshing arrival here two years ago was that it came with a secret weapon: a smile.

From its snappy wardrobe and self-congratulatory stage patter to its hyperactive mix of punk and garage rock, the Hives seemed not only smart but also blessed with a limitless imagination.

"Yes, America, you love us," lead singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist told the opening-night audience that spring at the Roxy in Los Angeles. "We've come to take over your country and change everything. History starts today."

The music was equally disarming. "Do what I wanna 'cause I can," Almqvist sang in "Hate to Say I Told You So," a radio hit that was typical of the band's crisp tales of youthful exuberance and impatience.

The Hives' first album since moving to a major label shifts the musical shades (the influences are more aligned with '70s new wave in places), but the pace is just as frantic.

"Abra Cadaver," the opening track, is a sonic tornado built around the Hives' signature theme of resisting conformity and authority. "Tried to stick an office worker inside of me/ But I kept breaking free," Almqvist declares. It's less than two minutes long but so full of energy and promise that it defies you not to be enthralled.

"Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones" keeps things moving at a breakneck pace, but it's "Walk Idiot Walk" that should keep alt-rock radio airways humming this summer. A deliriously upbeat attack on anyone who tries to stifle individuality, the track salutes the mocking, mechanical rhythms of Devo and the swagger and force of the Who. At this point in the album, we're talking four stars.

But things start slipping. While the energy never fails, the themes and melodies feel commonplace at times. Instead of putting a Hives stamp on the influences as they did in earlier albums, the band seems to be leaning on models, including the Clash, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and even the Strokes.

For all its delights, the album, only 30 minutes long, doesn't really leave you wanting more, the way a great album should.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope) ***

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