The Hives – I’m Alive / Good Samaritan

3 out of 5

Label: Third Man Records

Produced by: Dave Sardy

In general, when it comes to popular music – the more enduring stuff; whatever’s grabbing the current zeitgeist – I can get the gist of its appeal, whether or not I actually like it. It’s catchy; it’s well performed; perhaps there’s some surface component or origin story that helps to enhance somewhat more typical tunes… and I can accept when I’m told that someone made their bones live, following how this generates a hype train for an eventual album / single release.

In all my oh-so-astute judgements, though, I’m not sure I ever really got how The Hives became relative superstars. That’s not to say I hadn’t heard some really polished singles from them, including stuff that likely would’ve made me want to check out more if I hadn’t already been subjected to that more while working at a music store, but I couldn’t identify that capital-S “Something” that would make Janie Q. Public be able to point The Hives out of a lineup of rock-revival types in the early 00s. And on this first-new-material-in-nearly-a-decade single, that trend continues, now even further watered down by age.

Despite being produced to a truly rocking, pristine sheen by Dave Sardy – who’s helped some other long-in-the-tooth bands rediscover passions for an album or so – I’m Alive and Good Samaritan are, simply, good songs. Not great, not especially unique – again, nothing that would make me “know” this as The Hives – but definitely good songs.

I’m Alive’s pretty on-the-nose subject matter notwithstanding, it’s a lush, energized track, given all due Sardy layering and expertly shifting up and down from chorus to verse. Good Samaritan’s more streamlined, and The Hives attempt, both musically and lyrically, at proving they’re still punk to a degree, but the gloss on this thing is palpable, and the slick transitions between sections give away any DIY hopes.

I don’t know how this stuff works for long term Hives fans, but it’s not changed my opinion on them – neither positively or negatively. I’m always a fan of Sardy’s efforts, and it’s possible he watered down things here in favor of smoothing it out, but it’s equally possible that was in service of bringing things back up to a baseline. Either way, quality tracks.