There's a track entitled "I Want More" midway through Lex Hives, the fifth LP from Swedish rock quintet the Hives, on which vocalist/hyper-kinetic human explosion Howlin' Pelle Almqvist lays out a comically crass consumerist manifesto.
"I want shit that's made in India!" he yells. "I should be at peace with the world, but I still want more!"
It's hard to tell whether the song is an intentionally oversized criticism of consumer culture, or a bald-faced celebration of the same. Almqvist himself struggles with this distinction.
âItâs kind of both,â he says, when reached via phone in his native Stockholm. âI really like the fact that itâs hard to tell.â
For Almqvist and his fellow Hives, judicious use of such esurience has been essential to their 19-year career. While most of the group's early-aughts garage-rock brethren have faded from public consciousness, the Hives have soldiered on, repeatedly proving they not only want "more," but they are also willing to put in the necessary legwork to get it.
Consider a few of the essential figures: The band formed in 1993 in its hometown of Fagersta, Sweden (pop. 11,000), but spent nearly a decade wallowing in obscurity before attaining instantaneous fame as part of the early-'00s garage-rock revival. Most of the bands that rose with that tide faded with equal rapidity (when was the last time you listened to the Vines?), but the Hives remained stubbornly resolute. They continued storming stages in their signature, duo-chrome costumes and swinging around microphones with wanton abandon, paying no heed to the prevailing culture's shift in taste.
"We were bunched in with a couple of different genres or movements even before the sort-of 'garage-rock revival,'" Almqvist says. "I felt like, 'Oh, here's another.'… We always knew that when that ended, we'd just keep going."
True to their word, the Hives followed their 2004 breakout album, Tyrannosaurus Hives, with an artistic and commercial leap into the void. The Black and White Album, released in 2007, featured a notable departure from the group's spare punk-rock inflections. Horn sections were brought in; the Neptunes received a producing credit. Almqvist describes the record as "very much a studio product" in tones that suggest a certain distaste for that epithet.
"I think it was really necessary, though, to move forward," he says. "And we learned a lot from the process. But I think that control-freak aspect of us was probably screaming the entire time."
Though a concatenation of unrelated troubles (family, medical, label) created a five-year buffer between The Black and White Album and the group's follow-up, the Hives returned to work in late 2011, ready to give their perfectionist tendencies free rein.
Sans label obligations and armed with 18 years of hands-on experience, the group elected to form its own imprint, produce its own record and even film its own videos. Almqvist compares the unexpected difficulty of this agenda to, "this Buddhist quote that goes, 'In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.'"
Lex Hives, the result of nearly a year of machinations on the band's part, draws equally from the group's formative years as hyperactive, punk-rock brats and its latter-day experiments with studio polish. "1000 Answers" and "If I Had a Cent" serve as reminders that the Hives were once mentioned in the same breath as the Sex Pistols. Lead-off single "Go Right Ahead" suggests the group was taking notes throughout its various collaborations with Timbaland and Pharrell Williams.
"There are two themes [to Lex Hives]," Almqvist says, "one of which is the revenge fantasy. Because we were away for such a long time, we want to come back and show the bastards."
He punctuates this statement with laughter, then goes on to reveal that the second half of the LP was inspired by the band's aggravation over the past five years' upheavals in international finance. Though those two points of inspiration seem incongruous at first blush, it bears mentioning that the Hives have built their entire career on an apparent contradiction: This is a rock band that simultaneously mocks and revels in rock-'n'-roll opulence.
Even more remarkable as the group approaches its 20th year, it's still able to summon the pure energy necessary to pull it off.