Black, White & Red
Well, it took four tries, but The Hives have finally released a fully coherent album, despite working with several producers, including the aforementioned Pharrell. The Black And White Album breaks from the usual Hives tradition of surrounding two or three killer singles with tons of filler - it boasts several strong, hooky tracks, all ready-made to be featured in an Adidas commercial near you. But I'll kill the suspense...how are the Pharrell tracks, you wonder?
The first of the two, "Well All Right!" boasts a typically Hives title and sounds like...well, The Hives meets N.E.R.D. Whether it's good or not depends on how much you like N.E.R.D., I suppose. It speeds along nicely with a slight shuffle beat for the first minute and a half or so until the song derails into a slow, "ironic" Barry White-ish bridge right out of the N.E.R.D. songbook. Yes, that's just as brutal as it reads. Pass.
The second is more successful, as Pharrell pushes the band into completely new territory. Lead singer Howlin' Pete is forced into a falsetto, the guitars are muted down from their usual amp-stacked thunder to a Prince-ly lick and the chorus is right out of the Pharrell/Gwen Stefani songbook. That's far from as brutal as it reads, however. "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S." is a fun trifle, a big single waiting to happen, and isn't that how all the best Hives songs can be described?
The non-Pharrell tracks please as well, particularly "You Got It All...Wrong" and "Bigger Hole To Fill", which roar along nicely as classic Hives tracks. The only real missteps are the novelty "Giddy Up!" (has there EVER been a good song with that title?) and the inexplicable "Puppet On a String", a ragtime (!) piano-driven waste of three minutes. But 12 for 14 is pretty good, especially for The Hives.
Meanwhile, enduring New Wavers Duran Duran strive for '00s relevance by teaming with Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland protege Nate "Danja" Hills for Red Carpet Massacre. Again, I'll spare you the pain of waiting - the Timbaland tracks are phenomenal, far from embarrassing. "Nite Runner", slated to be the lead single until fan uproar caused the band to reconsider, is just what the band needed - a throwback to the "All She Wants Is" days of Big Thing with a more contemporary beat. The fact that it caused all the 30-to-40 something soccer mom Durannies to blanch can only mean good things.
Unfortunately, the band is going with "Falling Down" as the lead-off single, a song so blandly latter-Duran-by-numbers it should be titled "Ordinary World '07". The Danja-produced songs slip in and out without offending too much (or making much of a splash), until Timbaland returns on "Zoom In", placing Nick Rhodes squiggly-synth front and center and wringing a vocal from Simon Le Bon that sounds right out of 1983. Red Carpet Massacre is a half-successful noble endeavor that leaves one wondering what may have been had Timb helmed the entire project.
The Hives - The Black And White Album - 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Duran Duran - Red Carpet Massacre - 3 stars (no Timbaland) - 4.5 stars (Timbaland tracks)