The Hives are part of a great rock & roll tradition — it just isn’t the one they think they’re continuing. In their minds, they’re heirs to the rudest underground subversives of the last 50 years, starting with the classic garage purists. And based on their early work, particularly their American breakthrough album, ”Veni Vidi Vicious,” the Hives had the musical muscle spasms to back up their claim.
But whether they know it or not, the Hives belong to another, very different tradition that extends back at least to the B-52’s: They’re part great singles band and part novelty act. The B-52’s made periodic stabs at heaviness a few records into their career, but deep down they knew kitschy fun was their strength. On Tyrannosaurus Hives, the Swedes also try to be a tad weightier and, momentarily forgetting their own place in post-modern-rock history, fall victim to some of the same traps to which the B’s succumbed.
Rather than recalling shaggy-haired rock animals of the mid-’60s, the Hives now sound as if they’ve logged serious time trolling the punk and post-punk sections of record stores. The new tunes have a pithier, nastier edge: The influence of the Clash, for instance, is apparent in the reggae-on-speed riffing of ”A Little More for Little You,” while the Ramones loom in the exclamatory put-downs of ”Dead Quote Olympics.” As he did on the last album’s ”Die, All Right!” singer Pelle Almqvist — half man, half cartoon — takes frequent aim at corporate conformity: ”Tried to stick an office worker inside of me!” he yelps in ”Abra Cadaver.” Almqvist sings every song that way — as a scrawny-throated taunt — even when the band essays a snide ballad in ”Diabolic Scheme”: There, Almqvist takes great delight in the return of someone who once ditched him, while behind him and the band, a string section jabs and pokes demonically.
That diversion aside, what’s largely absent from ”Tyrannosaurus Hives” are the garage-punk novelties (like ”Veni Vidi”’s ”Main Offender” and ”Hate to Say I Told You So”) that made the Hives such an amusing sideshow. Instead, too many tracks amount to herky-jerky guitar parts stapled together with power but not as much precision. ”Walk Idiot Walk,” the single, wants to duplicate the dismissive sneer of vintage Iggy Pop and the Stooges but feels robotic.
Something else is missing as well. For decades, bands have had to cope with a variation on the criticism ”Their records are okay, but you have to see them live.” Few new-millennium rockers fall into this great divide as much as the Hives. The best way to experience them remains on stage, where it’s plenty easy to be seduced by their matching suits and shoes, mismatched ‘dos, puppets-on-strings moves, and Almqvist’s faux-Jagger preening and self-conscious rock-star patter. Next to those sights, listening to ”Tyrannosaurus Hives” is akin to hearing a Broadway cast disc: Without the visuals, you’re not getting the whole picture. Having nailed the novelty aspect of their appeal, the Hives need to work on the rest of their package.