I really wanted to love “The Black and White Album.” I believed that The Hives—even after touring with Maroon 5, collaborating with Timbaland, and recording with Pharrell Williams—would stay true to the formula that produced two of the most exciting rock albums of the last decade. I thought that, even as The Strokes lost their touch and The White Stripes altered their sound, The Hives would stand tall as the unwavering foundation for my love of the garage rock revival. “The Black and White Album” proves I was horribly wrong.
Clocking in at more than 45 minutes, “The Black and White Album” is a distinct departure from the band’s three previous albums, none of which broke the 30-minute mark. Whereas “Barely Legal,” “Veni Vidi Vicious,” and “Tyrannosaurus Hives” featured only five songs over the three-minute mark between them, “The Black and White Album” has 10 of them.
The Hives simply don’t use that extra time well; almost every track overstays its welcome. “Well All Right!” and “You Dress Up for Armageddon” contain awkward bridges that ruin potentially decent rockers. The instrumental “A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors” is stuffed right in the middle of the album, seemingly for no other purpose than to bore the listener for two and a half minutes.
The Hives have always focused on music rather than lyrics, but “The Black and White Album” features some of their worst writing, as well. Hearing awful lines like “If same-ing isn’t working / Why don’t you different instead?” during the otherwise-decent “Try It Again” is like finding a finger in your chili. It kind of ruins the experience.
But the worst song, by far, is the Pharrell-produced “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” which features a one-note guitar line and frontman Holwin’ Pelle Almqvist pretentiously crooning, “We rule the world.” The song’s chorus, unsurprisingly, features a voice spelling out the band’s name. It’s an awful impersonation of “Idiot”-era Iggy Pop with all the class of a fifth grader belching the alphabet.
Even when they don’t rely on worthless gimmicks, the band’s sound—previously their saving grace—has changed, and not for the better. Whereas previous albums evoked The Stooges and The Rolling Stones, new songs like “Return the Favour” and “Hey Little World” have more in common with Yellowcard and Kidz Bop.
It’s not all terrible, though. First single “Tick Tick Boom” is the logical sequel to their breakout hit “Hate To Say I Told You So”; it features similarly jagged guitars and arrogant boasts like “Yeah / I was right all along.” The synth-pop of “Won’t Be Long” is incredibly catchy and is the only song on the album that succeeds at something new. “Bigger Hole To Fill,” with its repeated titular mantra, recalls past album-closers “Antidote” and “Supply and Demand.”
There may be many recent records worse than “The Black and White Album,” but there’s no denying that this is a bad one. Thankfully, glimmers of hope still shine among these fourteen tracks, so I can still pray that The Hives will learn their lesson and return to recording the fast-paced, hard-rocking, garage punk that made them famous. On “Tick Tick Boom,” Holwin’ Pelle proclaims, “I’ve done it before and I can do it some more.” God, I really hope so.