Sound — 8
The Hives are probably most well known for their antics onstage and eye-catching outfits, but their latest album actually offers original material that could survive even without seeing the Swedish band's lively stage shows. While The Hives have come to be associated with songs that revolve around gritty-sounding riffs that usually involve only a few chords, The Black And White Album veers from what you'd come to expect. Keyboards play as much of a role as guitar at times, and it's during those times that The Hives prove they are capable of more than just your run-of-the-mill garage rock tune. The 4th studio album from The Hives gets off to a fairly familiar start, with the single Tick Tick Boom and Try It Again sounding a lot like the band's earlier hit Hate To Say I Told You So. They are definitely catchy tracks, but they're far from being the most original offerings on The Black And White Album. Both songs revolve around a few chords, and although they are fun listens and will likely be radio hits, they don't show a new side to The Hives. It's not until you get to about the 4th track that things start taking an unexpected turn, with everything from funk to a bit of rockabilly thrown into the mix. N*E*R*D drummer/vocalist and producer Pharrell Williams lent his hand at producing the tracks Well All Right! and T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S. -- 2 of the best tracks on the entire CD. It's hard to say how involved Williams was involved in the actual songwriting process, but there is a distinct difference in the sound to the tunes he was involved in. Well All Right has much more of a percussive element, while T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S. is a funky little number that features vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almquist's falsetto skills. It's pretty unexpected to hear any sort of funk on a Hives album, but the band actually made the style work for them. Keyboard pops up a lot more in the new material, and there is even an instrumental keyboard interlude called A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors about halfway through the record. It's an odd little number, but it works nicely as a transition piece. Another standout track is Giddy Up, which uses what sounds like a drumtrack to accompany Almquist's rapped vocals. Some fans of The Hives might be annoyed by the club-oriented vibe of Giddy Up, but it's a really nice change to the garage rock style.
Lyrics — 6
Although there's a fun quality to The Hives' songs, the band won't be known years down the line for its lyrics. In Tick Tick Boom Almquist sings, You know I've done it before; and I can do it some more; I've got my eye on the score; I'm gonna cut through the floor. It's a fairly typical track in terms of the lyrical content on The Black And White Album, so don't expect mind-blowing themes. Even with the fairly amateurish lyrics, The Hives put so much energy into every song that the words don't necessarily need to be the focus.
Overall Impression — 8
There are a lot more styles that The Hives explore on the new album, and to their credit, they do a nice job at all of them. While the band's fans will probably always want to hear at least a few garage-rock tracks on every record, the band should continue to pursue songs that rely on more than just a few chords along the way. Although some songs feel a bit more dance-oriented than their usual rock fare, they are still a step forward in terms of songwriting and originality. In the long run, that is exactly what will keep audiences interested in The Hives.