Essential Playlist :: Hanson

I’ve stated before that I avoid anything by Hanson prior to their 2000 release This Time Around. That includes the ubiquitous, over-played, much-maligned “MMMbop.” So, for those of you whose ears fear encountering that track, fear not! This band has put out 5 amazing albums (and a live, best of) since then. This playlist showcases their variety of styles over the last 13 years with the heaviest emphasis on my two favorites: the aforementioned, This Time Around and the previously-reviewed The Walk.

Hanson: All Grown Up

under 1. Strong Enough To Break, Underneath – The band has always been good at saying how they are feeling. Coming off of a very tough several years and deciding to go the independent route, this song is a great statement from a band that’s willing to put every last bit of heart into their music.

walk 2. Great Divide, The Walk – Another great album-opener.  While the driving guitar chords are obvious, I think that the piano action here is the best part.

shout it out 3. Make It Out AliveShout it Out – This track reminds me a lot of the band Chicago with the chord structures, piano style, and horns. The difference is a more aggressive vocal approach than Peter Cetera would have attempted.

under 4. Lost Without Each Other, Underneath – I like the vocal approach on Underneath. It often seems a little rushed and a bit mushy, which I would normally would hate, but Taylor really excels at using to communicate emotion.

walk 5. Georgia, The Walk – The band used the opening piano riff in a series of video podcasts leading up to the release of this record, so there was already a familiarity when the album came out. I know that I use the vague term, “immediacy”, a lot – but this is another great example of just that.

anthem 6. Juliet, Anthem – This is easily my favorite song on the new record. It’s playful and powerful. I love Zac’s voice here and on most everything he does.

live 7. Hand In Hand, Live and Electric (originally, This Time Around) – This song was my first introduction to Isaac’s vocals. I love how he gets so passionate – which is why I opted for the live version in particular.

this time 8. A Song To Sing, This Time Around – I love “downer” songs. I love piano-based pop. I love vocal harmonies. So, for me, this is homerun. It’s a welcomed palette-cleanser at the end of great album (like a “cool down” after a workout).

shout it out 9. Use Me Up, Shout it Out – All the reasons listed immediately above are what make this song succeed. Couple that with Zac’s vocal performance and you’ve got another winner. To me, the horns here are a bit reminiscent of Matchbox 20’s Mad Season record.

this time 10. Save Me, This Time Around – This is one of the very first Hanson songs to really jump out at me. The harmonies are so locked in and the delivery is achingly desperate.

anthem 11. You Can’t Stop Us, Anthem – Like “Strong Enough to Break”, this is another great “statement” song. As I mentioned in my review of the album, I love the chorused vocals on the chorus.

under12. Penny & Me, Underneath – This song is special to me because my wife knew it before we even met.

walk 13. Watch Over Me, The Walk – Another Issac-fronted rock track. As on “Hand in Hand”, he showcases the ability to bring an impassioned and aggressive vocal approach.

live 14. This Time Around, Live and Electric (originally, This Time Around) – I love this version of the song for the way that it builds, then strips out the instruments for the first chorus. Additionally, I love the traded verse vocals. Finally, it showcases more widely spaced harmonies that create a more expansive range. While tight harmonies are beautiful, I love the range here, especially live.

walk 15. Go, The Walk – I’ve said before that this is my favorite song in the entire catalog. Zac shines on the lead vocal. The piano-propelled melody is excellent. There’s no reason not to declare it a “perfect song.”

Hanson: Anthem

Release Date: June 18, 2013

When they began their career some 20+ years ago, the Hanson brothers epitomized the term “pop”. For at least on summer they ruled the airwaves with their catchy, upbeat, overnight sensation “MMMbop“. While their following albums were heard by significantly fewer people, the brothers continued to hone their skills within the confines of the pop genre. On their 2007 album, The Walk, the brothers turned their amps up a notch or two and delivered a solid rock record that should have excited anyone that heard it. They followed this effort with something of a surprise move on 2010’s neo-soul-pop Shout it Out. On their latest effort, Anthem, the boys kick off their 3rd decade in the business with a record that offers a taste of all these sounds – a snapshot of where they’ve been and where they are going.

When I first saw the video for the lead single “Get the Girl Back“, I was taken a bit aback by it’s return to the Shout it Out sound. Given the critical praise their previous record received, this was probably a safe choice for the band. For my part, any instance in which the band strays from their piano-based instrumentation is cause for concern. I’m not a fan of horns, which are all over this track, so my first impression of the record lowered my expectations to some degree.

The album opens with “Fired Up“, built on aggressive guitars and driving (but less-than-crisp) drums. While the brothers are always expected to have great harmonies, the lock up especially well here. “I’ve Got Soul” is another horn-heavy, cowbell-filled Shout it Out-er. It does show a bit of divergence with a bit of Latin/Cubano essence just below the surface.

For me, the album really starts to pick up with Underneath-era style on the Zac-led “Juliet“. I’ve said before that my favorite tracks tend to feature Zac, and here he shines in a whole new way with a stutter-step vocal that could have easily gone wrong. The simple, bouncy piano part propels the song forward and at no point does it try to over-stretch its’ sweet spot. A killer bridge brings the whole piece together.

Isaac takes the band into Jason Mraz/adult contemporary territory on “For Your Love“. The stripped down instrumentation, extensive harmonies, and relatable lyrics make this track a near-masterpiece. Songs like this coming from a stable songwriters with strong family values only deepen the band’s impact.

There’s an intriguing 80’s essence to several songs in the collection including “You Can’t Stop Us Now” and “Tragic Symphony“. The former brings up images of 80’s greats such as Joan Jett and Michael Jackson. Isaac does a great job of leading the way vocally, but the track is really turned on its head (in a good way) by the chorused harmonies. On the latter, there’s an almost frantic feeling built on a collision of strings, bass, drums, tamborine and rushed, tightly-harmonized vocals.

All in all, the album succeeds, but fails to reach the heights that I would hope for. The convergence of so many different stylistic influences (while meshed together in extraordinary ways) can’t out pace any one genre choice standing on it’s own.

Here the band succeeds best when playing it close to the chest, keeping the production to a minimum, and letting the vocals rule the finished product. As mentioned before, when they step away from the piano, things seem to unravel a bit. Additionally, attempts to sound lyrically tough (“Fired Up”, “Can’t Stop Us”) come across as a little unbelievable (the same mistake we’ve seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt making of late).

While I may not spin the album cover-to-cover very often, there are definitely several songs here that will make it into long-term rotation.

Hanson: The Walk

Release Date: July 24, 2007

In anticipation of next week’s release of Anthem, I wanted to go back and re-visit my favorite Hanson album, The Walk. Following a successful (if slightly mellow) outing on 2004’s Underneath, the band removed all the speed bumps to create a timeless record, securing the place amongst the greatest rock bands on the business today. It’s a shame that too few people ever actually heard it.

The album opens with the DD Dliwayo School Choir chanting “Ngi Ne Themba (I Have Hope)” leading into the first single, “Great Divide” which features the choir as well. The inclusion of the choir was intended to help raise awareness of the band’s charity work. Sales from the “Great Divide” single went to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto, South Africa. Not that this was a one-time only event, you can still partner with the band to support their giving on the Take the Walk website.

Middle brother Taylor brings his power vocals and personal fervor strongest on “Georgia” which cleverly wordplays the Ray Charles classic. While the entire record is very radio-friendly, this may be the most consumable track for the casual listener. The children’s choir returns alongside trio vocals on the Taylor-led deep cut “Blue Sky“.

This album seems to have a wealth of lead vocals by youngest brother/drummer Zac – and shows him to be (arguable) the best vocalist of the bunch. His “Running Man” is one of the few low points on the album and provides a crystal ball glance into the future of the band’s direction. This mis-step is easily forgivable, though, when followed by the breakthrough performance of “Go“. This song is easily my favorite of anything that they’ve done and may be an all-time favorite of any artist in my collection.

Eldest, Isaac, has a few starring moments on the record as well. Another favorite throughout the band’s entire catalog occurs with him at the helm. “Watch Over Me” succeeds due to his steady, lower range that his siblings lack. He is also able to provide a tempered growl in the tag.

With 17 tracks on the extended edition (only $9.49 from AmazonMP3) the value proposition alone makes this a great record. Recently, my friend Dan and I were discussing whether or not a band can “peak.” I said, you just never know when a band is going to come back with a great record unexpectedly (and I cited Green Day‘s American Idiot) as an example. In my mind, this album is the high point of their collection, but I certainly hope to see them surpass it in the future.

Artist of the Month :: Hanson

I first encountered Hanson the same way many others did: during the summer of 1997 through the outrageously overplayed “MMMBop“. And, like many, I determined that this was enough for me to never want to  have anything to do with the band. Then, years later, in the most unexpected and unplanned way, I became a fan.

I had returned to my dorm room after a day of classes and flipped on the television which still happened to be tuned to MTV. On the opposite side of the room with my back turned to the tv, I was really digging the song that I was hearing so I turned around to learn more. After a few seconds I said to myself, “hey, that looks like Hanson”. And so I watched all the way through to the credits to find that the song was in fact by Hanson, the title track to their 2000 record, This Time Around.

Fast forward another 3 years, I’m living in Portland, OR and spending most of my free time at the library. Digging through their CD collection, I come across This Time Around, and remembering back to that random listen 3 years prior, I decided to give it a try. (It should be noted that this is the same library collection that made me a fan of Ben Folds, John Mayer, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elton John.) I was hooked. This Time Around is a solid record with a string of memorable tracks including the title track, “Save Me”, “Hand in Hand”, and “Song to Sing”. The band’s voices had passed puberty and the tone was rich. The piano-anchored compositions were immediately relatable without seeming contrived. (Just FYI, I don’t listen to anything prior to this record.)


Obviously, that record could never have lived up to the expectations set by their breakthrough single. As such, they spent a lengthy amount of time separating from their label and recording their follow-up independent release Underneath (2004) as detailed in the documentary Strong Enough to Break. This collection, again, was an all-around great record with plenty of quality songs that no one ever heard including “Penny and Me”, “Underneath”, and “Lost Without Each Other”.

In my opinion, the band reached its biggest musical breakthrough on 2007’s The Walk. On this record, each singer offers strong lead vocal efforts. The collection as a whole is perhaps the strongest of any release in the catalog. And the songs would have been perfect for Adult Contemporary or Top 40 radio if anyone would have played them. The inclusion of an African children’s choir on “Great Divide” is a nice touch highlighting the band’s charity work. Eldest brother Isaac shines on “Watch Over Me”. Perhaps my favorite song from the band is the Zac-fronted “Go” which is both fragile and firm in the greatest of ways.

Upon my early listening, I was not as enamored with Shout it Out (2010) as I had been with previous releases. The Walk had been so solidly pop-rock that the soul-bluesy Shout it Out was a bit of a surprise. The production on the record is a bit less robust than on earlier releases which I’m usually ok with, but here it just seems sterile. I’m usually not a fan of horns and that holds true here as well. While I’m glad that the single “Thinkin’ ’bout Somethin'” garnered more mainstream attention than anything else they had done in a long time, I felt that it sorely missed the greatness of the prior three records. Again, the Zac-led “Use Me Up” is great in the same manner as “Go”.


Now in their 20th year as a band, the brothers are set to release Anthemlater this month. The lead single, “Get the Girl Back” seems to stay in the same sound range of Shout it Out which is a little disappointing. However, as long as they don’t completely abandon the piano in favor of the Rhodes keyboard or other such keyed instrument, all should be fine.