Lex Hives: Flawless Production Buoyed By Pelle Almqvist’s Personas”

“If I Had a Cent” is the song that really sold me all over again on Pelle Almqvist’s skill as a live, captivating vocalist. “I Want More” brings a loud, fun mixture of Joan Jett, Queen, and the Pixies, coming on track 04, but if you would have told me The Hives were going to put out an album in 2012 satisfying and enjoyable all the way through, I may have looked at you sideways. This is exactly, though, the deal that’s sealed by “If I Had a Cent,” track 11.
There’s a defiant moment on this track, immediately following a break in phrasing uniformity, when Almqvist defines himself as the best singer in rock today. We’re in an age when it’s trendy for hip-hop musicians to cite rock musicians as inspirations; in Almqvist I hear the opposite — though he’s singing melodically, his mouth is like a V6 engine, and the lyrical picture he paints portrays city craziness and crookedness: “Tongue still split now you’re burning through the pack / I could always spot your friends from the daggers in their back / And my head hangs down.” He’s essentially an emcee on this track, a summation of every superbly skilled modern vocalist who has just had to get something off the chest. What he brings to the table is utterly singular, and the ragged cacophony of the band’s sped-up-Stooges-like groove belies the inspired, driven tinges on Almqvist’s voice.
More so than any album previous, Lex Hives has Almqvist sounding like a fighter, in the proverbial sense. Whereas before he was coming with an inexplicable amount of distaste for the low-brow and the naive (“Hate to Say I Told You So,” “Walk Idiot Walk,” “B is For Brutus”), here, on “If I Had a Cent,” he seems to know that as an aging man in a capitalist, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, he’s really running to stand still. We get to reap all the benefits of this, and when Alqvist yells “And my head hangs down,” we hear the song as granting a much-deserved victory back to him in its own right, to the singer who has dug his own way out of a hopeless hole of adversity and immediate foreignness by using nothing but his pipes.
This song is really the core of the album, coming after much of the typical Hives histrionics which include satire and political commentary. Certainly a willing spotlight holder, Almqvist doesn’t let his confidence rule the show; rather, the main thing internalized in the listener is that it’s all a paramount, unbreakable message coming from the heart. There’s an edginess in The Hives that’s sorely lacking in the Green Day of 2012 — the idea that it’s not just what you say, but also how you say it, hopefully, over booming drums and whip-crisp band tightness, like you’re fighting for your life.

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