Every musical genre has innovators and imitators, and the trend favoring simple, impeccably dressed garage-rock is no different. But in a throwback realm where originality isn't exactly the goal, the presence of powerhouse songwriting separates The Hives from, say, The Datsuns. The former's members may look pretty and dress funny and preen and pose, but the songs they play transcend the trappings of music-as-fashion.
The same, thank goodness, can be said of The Hives' friends, collaborators, and fellow Swedes in Sahara Hotnights, whose garage-bound tendencies are drowned out amid candy-coated pop and new-wave buzz that couldn't be more ingratiating. At 35 misfire-free, ballad-free minutes, the new Kiss & Tell benefits from a consistency that finds room for versatility, with the ingratiatingly over-the-top power-pop of "Hot Night Crash" rubbing up against the subtler, more sinister "Keep Calling My Baby." The highlights keep coming, too: It'd take a crowbar to pry the chorus of "The Difference Between Love And Hell" out of the memory banks.
If anything, viewing Sahara Hotnights as part of a garage-rock scene—or summing it up as a "girl band," or a Swedish band—fails to do its members justice. Granted, Kiss & Tell doesn't blaze new trails, but it also doesn't belong in any pigeonholes but the one reserved for smart, hooky, winning pop music. If looks, gender, and fashion help Sahara Hotnights find the audience its members seek, even better: The 11 sturdy songs on Kiss & Tell possess the strength to endure long after the glamour fades.