The Hives tend to fare best when they focus on all-out sonic gristle, with rhythms violent enough to atomize click-tracks and metronomes. But locked-in grooves dominate this fourth outing from the Swedish outfit, once self-identifying as the punkest of punk bands, now open to new genres. Heralded at the time of their 2001 ascension as saviors bold and thoughtful enough to reinstate the guitar in rock’s increasingly poppish lexicon, they’ve now done away with their core raggedness in favor of what Hives chest-beaters will call finesse (they’ve done matured!), while the less charitable might sniff that they’ve stopped just shy of pandering stadium rock—small-amphitheater fare, if you prefer.
But it’s nice to have a record with a plan. Not, as you might guess, an intended conflation of the Beatles and Metallica, The Black and White Album presents a mission statement for the next phase of Project Hives: less of an emphasis on garage spit-and-venom, replaced by forays into ballads and lounge soul. Representing the latter, “A Stroll Through Hives Manor Corridors” sounds like a Munsters outro, organ pumping away, before giving way to the traditional stomp of “Won’t Be Long.” Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s voice has deepened, at times edging into baritone range, adding some heft to lyrics that were always intended more as Hives-centric signage than language with any semblance of narrative function. They’re still tough to beat in terms of taking the piss, though— “We rule the world!” Almqvist announces on the slapstick soul of “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.,” doubtless a shout-out to those Hivester legionnaires who get off on mad, mad sloganeering and the pummeling of the rational mind, just so long as a joke hangs in the balance.