As thrilling as a sugar and a tartrazine frenzy...
Russell Arkwright lives in Garstang, Lancashire. He’s the charismatic, really rather handsome, frontman of a band. He calls them The Pectins because his mum makes jams and sells them down the farmers’ markets in Blackburn and Bolton.
Russell decides that, hey, we’re not going to be like [a]Oasis[/a], or them bands who think it’s OK to just, you know, turn up and do a gig. Russell sees [a]Oasis[/a] on the telly. They are dressed like the lads who go down the pub. Cool, he thinks, they look like my mates. But I want to be a real rock’n’roll star. An untouchable. What’s the point of looking like my mates when I could put on a show and be bigger than real life? Russell dresses his band in matching purple bodysuits. All of them: even Marcus, the prematurely-balding bassist with the unfortunate goatee beard and ‘Fridge’, the super-sized guitarist.
The Pectins play gigs. An avuncular chap who claims “to have been in a band that nearly made it big in the ’70s” champions them. He knows the landlord of the Rose & Crown. They soon play gigs in venues all the way from Lancaster to Preston. The punters laugh, the punters stare. But they don’t take to The Pectins. “Pretentious shite”, says the NME reader in the Artichoke and Ballboy in Freckleton. “They know nowt about sheep,” says the farmer in The Rusty Cleric in Goosnargh.
But transfer The Pectins to rural Sweden and you have
a different story: the smalltown band that thrilled the world with choppy riffs and white ties. Howlin’ Russell Arkwright would be laughed out of sight in Garstang. But Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is just right (and a great Scrabble score). [a]Hives[/a] took angular garage rock from the metropolitan elite and the university towns and sold it to their country cousins around the globe. You cease to be a garage band when you get the celebrity endorsement of Tom Hanks.
Epiphanies don’t come much bigger than the first sighting of the video of ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’. This was how [a]Hives[/a] introduced themselves to the British public in early 2002. With a song that was so utterly rock. Yet so utterly pop. Fifty per cent [a]Pixies[/a]’ ‘Bone Machine’, 50 per cent [a]Blur[/a]’s ‘Song Two’ and 100 percent original (plus ten per cent Kylie) it’s one of the great singles of the last five years. Just look at Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, flexing his limbs into lascivious curves better than anyone since Mick Jagger. The look. The sound.
And then the rumours: “They’re a manufactured band”. Yeah? OK, every boyband from Boyzone to ‘NSync has had “the blokes that aren’t as good-looking as the rest of them”. But they’ve never had their “Marcus”. Look at Pelle. Look at his cheekbones. His pout. If you don’t secretly fancy him, then you will never have sex with man, woman or beast. Then the camera moves right. And you look at Dr Matt Destruction. He looks like he failed the auditions for Har Mar Superstar: The Movie. You don’t put men like Matt Destruction in a manufactured band.
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And what about ‘Randy Fitzsimmons’, allegedly the band’s Svengali, songwriter and sixth member? In these very pages
it was alleged that he was actually[a]Hives[/a]’ guitarist, Nicholaus Arson – an allegation that was strenuously denied. And if you believe the web conspiracy theorists he’s [a]Iggy Pop[/a], he’s Bill Drummond of [a]KLF[/a] and he’s Pete Waterman. He’s none of these people and less. He’s a ghost. Even if there is a real Randy Fitzsimmons who actually writes the songs and tells [a]Hives[/a] what to do – he’s become a myth. And mythology makes [a]Hives[/a] intrinsically more interesting than any whining, self-confessional, anthem-writing bores. We love them. They could be auto-play guitarbots, and we’d still love them. The mystery makes them special. Oh, yes, and the music.
So has major label dosh blunted The Hives’ vitality? Of course not. There’s always been this vacuum-packed freshness to [a]Hives[/a]’ music. It’s angry in the way a Big Mac is filling. It gives you an instant carbohydrate rush but leaves you hungering for something more nutritious a little while afterwards. The only difference major label cash will mean to [a]Hives[/a] is that they’re going to sell squillions more records.
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‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’ has this relentless, urgent, sequence of tracks. Thirty minutes of chugging and howling, you go from one killer riff to another with barely a millisecond to recover. Not all the songs have the Savile Row cut of ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ but that doesn’t matter. Many of the 400,000 people who bought ‘Your New Favourite Band’ had no idea that it collected the best bits of an album released in 1997 (‘Barely Legal’) and an album released in 2000 (‘Veni Vidi Vicious’). Despite being edited highlights of a career-so-far, even it had its fair share
of filler. The same is true of ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’. But it’s impossible to discern – on each listen – which tracks are the weak ones, such is its unyielding torque. For instance, is ‘Diabolic Scheme’ the weak link? It’s the most obvious departure from their usual sound. But weak? Imagine Cilla Black’s ‘Anyone Who Ever Had a Heart’ sung by Satan, with an accompanying string quartet. How could that be weak?
Listening to ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’ is like playing a game of Your New Favourite Song. Is it ‘Abra Cadaver”s psychedelic stomp? Is it ‘B Is For Brutus’ with its fuzzy riff that sounds like a swarm of bees eating Square Crisps? Is it that first single? ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ is clearly touched by the god of pop. And, at three minutes and 31, is the longest track on the album by over ten per cent. ‘See Through Head’ mixes the [a]Pixies[/a] with Buggles, but Pelle has a more powerful yelp than Black Francis ever had – proof that the meatball is mightier than the cheeseburger – while ‘Dead Quote Olympics’ revisits the provincial punk of Sham 69.
English is not [a]Hives[/a]’ first language, yet their lyrics sound fascinating. You can’t really work out exactly what’s being sung. But it sounds like something of life-or-death importance to Pelle. When he sings “the dead quote Olympics” it sounds like “the deaf dumb Olympics”. “Two-timing touch and broken bones” might as well be “too dumb, and Dutch, and broken bones”.
It doesn’t matter. This isn’t poetry. Pelle howls great words like “poison!” and “violation!” and they fit with the rhythm.
Most people who bought ‘Your New Favourite Band’ listened to it relentlessly for a month. And then didn’t listen to it again. The same could be true for ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’. Everyone from Garstang to Gothenburg will listen to it for a month. Exclusively. And forget about it for ten years. But, god, what a month August 2004 is going to be. And August 2014.
Get ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’ at the NME Shop