Another Spin: The Hives’ “Barely Legal.”

Once again, the folks over at Fox and Fawn have come through — it’s a ridiculously weird thrift shop in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, and I believe their record ‘section’ operates under the identity of ‘Heaven Street Records.’ Go in there, and you’ll find mostly bizarre-as-all-hell Krautrock B.S. and death metal, but they do have a little garage/punk/psych section lovingly carved out of their two shelves. Some amazing classics are just waiting for a good home, and who am I to say no to their bright little covers?

Well, today kids, we find ourselves holding the Hives’ first LP, Barely Legal. This was the album that shot the Hives out of Sweden, but before they took the States by storm back in the early aughts, back when they themselves were barely out of school. And while their other albums are almost consistently instant classics, this one sticks out like a sore thumb. Oh, it’s the Hives, doing the kind of thing that the Hives do, but it’s. . . sort of not.

So let’s warm up our turntables and see what we can observe, shall we? Take out a number 2 pencil and your workbooks, and prepare to take notes.

Let’s think about the Hives for a second, and what makes them the Hives. On the surface, we have their strict black-and-white dress code, compiled of all the classic mod must-haves like Beatle boots; the nicknamed band members; the fact that they are Swedish; and Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s unrelenting cockiness and stage antics, that have marked him as one of the greatest frontmen of all time. But that’s what we think nowadays now that they have four albums under their belt.

What of that first album, Barely Legal? Pop it on, and there’s nothing of the smart pop hooks to be found — not a single “Main Offender” or “Tick Tick Boom,” with dynamics and riffs. None of that. Just blistering punk rock that, if it weren’t for the clearly enunciated words, would put it in the realm of hardcore. It’s easy to imagine somebody on the wrong end of an ass-kicking while listening to this record.

Before they controlled their energy and put on the suits or adapted the dress code (there’s a photo of the band included in the record sleeve that shows them wearing colors and looking like an awkward gang of giant-headed teenagers), they just bashed out blistering fast hardcore moments. Barely Legal is fourteen tracks of punk hellfire and spit, nevermind the bollocks like songwriting. In light of this album, it makes the others’ better by comparison, as Vedi Vidi Vicious, Tyrannosaurus Hives, and The Black and White Album all have a clear direction and vision, not to mention evolution.

But that is not to say that Barely Legal is a bad album; just the opposite! It’s refreshing in how Pelle Almqvist just spits out these massive chunks of lyrics, melody be damned, that full of the classic Hives bravado and line-crossing; “You laugh and turn your back cause I’m not like your supposed to be / But it’s not a question of low IQ, ’cause if it was well, then the answer would be me but you,” he shouts out in “a.k.a. I-D-I-O-T.”

Consider this album a blueprint for everything that comes next. If the break-neck speed is any indication, these guys put a ton of energy into such short, brilliant songs, and all of them of unmistakeable, inimitable character and personality. These guys bleed rock and roll in a way that puts all others to shame. Even the closest influences, the Rolling Stones among them, sort of pale in comparison into how much effort goes into the Hives’ confrontational style of writing AND playing, as if rock and roll has been waiting for the Hives to exist, then take it from there. The only thing hindering them would probably be that they do things strictly as ‘The Hives’ must do them. The suits, the swagger, the sound; no matter what actually does change in the band, there’s that sense of similarity that is so damning for them, yet reliable to anyone else.

It’s what makes them the most dynamic band on the planet, and this being their most brutal, rag-and-bone record at the beginning proves that rock and roll (and I mean: Rock and Roll, not Modern Rock, or Alternative Rock, or Classic Rock, or Hard Rock, or Punk Rock, or Rock. Rock and Roll) is far from dead. And anyone who thinks otherwise is an I-D-I-O-T.

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One response to “Another Spin: The Hives’ “Barely Legal.”

  1. “Electric Comic Book dug around a vintage record shop (in Brooklyn, of course) and came up with this early, pre-international EP from The Hives. And it might not be what you expect.”

    http://mrshuffleupagus.blogspot.com/2011/02/boss-stuff-on-interwebs-wednesday-links_23.html

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