The Hives return more than half a decade after the rambunctious Veni Vidi Vicious got them onto the late-night TV talk and comedy shows. Judging from the cover of The Black and White Album, they still know how to maximize their visual impact with coordinated outfits (here it's natty black jackets trimmed in white, matched with white Oxfords). And hyperactive lead singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist still knows how to sneer on cue.
But apparently the Hives are not convinced that they can keep hurtling through tunes that often sound a whole lot like the Stooges and various U.K. and Australian punk outfits without seeming stuck in a time warp - and, well, just stuck. For this outing they've signed on Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes and the Mississippi-based Dennis Herring to produce individual tracks. More important, after a few typically rousing garage-rock rave-ups, they start throwing out synth-pop meanderings, funk, electronic club tunes and even a take on jaunty dance-hall piano pounding that wobbles into Residents territory from time to time. It's as if they're not sure what will charm the kids in the iPod era, so they try a bit of everything.
Of the garage-rock, the lead cut, "Tick Tick Boom," is the most fun, while the throbbing Billy Idol-quality anthem "Bigger Hole to Fill" adds some unexpected menace to the proceedings. The mechanical funk/pop of the Williams-helmed theme song "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S." grows on you even if it doesn't demand that you get up and wag some ass.
As for the spare organ instrumental "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors," it's not weird enough to be Martin Denny-style "exotica," and it's not cheesy enough to be an effective bird-flipping gesture. Like about half the sonic experiments on The Black and White Album, it's just sort of there taking up space until the next vein-popping hunk of garage-rock commandeers your playback device.