It takes some concrete cojones to strut around, squawking about how you've got the best band in the world—that out of the kajillion other skinny-assed, stern-faced, stage-hogging rock & rollers, you play with the most talented pack this planet has to offer. Sure, for the Brits and the bling-drenched MCs, that kind of bravado may be par for the red carpet, but in the punk world, you better be part Chapelle to make that kind of claim to the world—especially if you're from Sweden and dress like a smart-ass schoolboy.
But of course the Hives did exactly that. And for a couple of years, it worked. Back in ye not-so-olde days, these boys were just conquering Europe on their way to the States, their Napoleon a thick-browed howler named Pelle Almqvist, who proclaimed from Fagersta to France that the Hives were everyone's "new favorite band." It was Almqvist who wrote on the back jacket of the Hives' 1997 debut Barely Legal that his own record was "a brilliant tour de force." No matter the tongue-in-cheek tone—smart-aleck charm spins wisecracks into gold.
The band chanted choruses like British football cheers, put the Cramps and the Sonics in a centrifuge, and skimmed only the sharpest hooks off the top. They were as raucous as the Riverboat Gamblers, as acerbic as the Circle Jerks and full of delirious defiance—playing like starving artists promised a full-on feast post-performance.
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And with 2000's Veni Vidi Vicious under their white belts, the Hives had good reason to raise hell. They'd successfully declared "Guerre Nucleaire," introduced "the metric system in time" and were still wagging fingers because they "Hate to Say I Told You So" (one of the best rock rebukes to date). The hype worked. Almqvist's voice broke in adolescent-awkward tantrums, and the pace was too berserk to be concerned with closing up the cracks. The sound was street-fighting scrappy—raw as a split lip—but their sing-song choruses and droll punch lines ensured the Hives' status as more garage-punk pranksters than studded-belt gangsters. By the time Veni caught on in the U.S. in 2001, the Hives really had earned Your New Favorite Band-dom, holding court along with the other rock royalty—the White Stripes and the Strokes.
But when Jack White took a left turn toward Loretta territory and the Strokes were setting new rooms on fire, the Hives returned with their monster shtick hollow as a Trojan horse. Last year's Tyrannosaurus Hives is the same joke the band's been cracking since they emerged as European underdogs, only now they're fat from the international acclaim, the edges drooping off their songs. The hyper-bratty act is still playing out, sort of, but as with the Blues Explosion, Hives fans deserve bolder moves with the bluster—all those years of contentious theatrics have been sealed deep inside a product stuck at the level of recreational gag.
There's nothing nefarious about their "Diabolic Scheme," "B is for Brutus" barely breaks a sweat, and "Antidote" is more sugar pill than the promised poison. Not to say the record's all filler—the reckless hysterics of "See Through Head" show flickers of the early Hives' flame. But otherwise, they've been stalled in the spotlight as the critical-darling deer doing the punk pantomime until someone better—your next new favorite band—comes along. And believe me, they'll be here soon enough, their bellies growling louder than Almqvist has howled for a long time.
THE HIVES WITH ZEKE AND THE BRONX AT HOUSE OF BLUES, 1530 S. DISNEYLAND DR., ANAHEIM, (714) 778-2583. SUN., 8 P.M. $17.50. ALL AGES.