Friday, January 16, 2009

Listen w/o Prejudice: Hanson--Redux

This post of Billy's has been picked up by a Hanson fan site, which has given it a second life. He has clearly tapped into a cultural phenomenon, so I am pleased to bring it to the fore and to "reprint" it on his behalf."

--Bob


Billy's All-Time Top 11 Hanson Songs That You Prolly Never Heard (in chronological order):

  • Weird
    This is the song that single-handedly proved they were different than their contemporaries. They weren't about hair gel and muscle shirts. They were about expressing the gamut of feelings of being young teens.
  • With You In Your Dreams
    They wrote this song about their recently-deceased grandmother. I'm not too ashamed to admit that it gets me a little misty everytime I hear it.

  • Runaway Run
    Absolutely has to be one of the catchiest pop songs I've heard this decade. Made all the better because you really don't have any specific clue what the hell they're talking about other than some really hot girl worth obsessing over yet also makes either her or him want to run away. But rock history is resplendent with great songs no one totally understands.
  • A Song to Sing
  • Penny + Me
    If it's a crime that "Runaway Run" was ignored by the mainstream, then no Hanson fan could be surprised that "Penny + Me" fell to the same cruel fate. For a song that feels so exhilerating, there's a bittersweet undercurrent in those superfast lyrics. The way friendships change over time, particularly between boys and girls, can't be explored enough in lyrics to suit me.
  • Underneath
  • Deeper
  • Hey
  • Great Divide
  • Go
    OK. There's nothing groundbreaking about this. It's pure, uncut adult alternative break-up fodder. But these kids are gifted at fodder. And when done right, fodder is good. It's not like vegemite or haggis. It's tasty, like a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Filet or a gut-busting Krystal. Just 'cuz you shouldn't exclusively dine on such junk, ain't nothin' wrong with enjoying them now and then.
  • Been There Before
    The song where they openly brag about how derivative they are as a band. And the hook is luscious. Finger snaps and everything!
For fans of Slap Shot, this post isn't for you. But certainly it's kismet that a cutesy teeny-bop band from the late 90s share their name. The trio of fictional (and non-fictional) minor league hockey immortality were good for one thing: beating the crap out of the other team.

The band Hanson, on the other hand, born of up three hippie-fied teen brothers, are good for one thing: getting constantly stomped by nay-sayers and music snobs.

At a time when the Jonas Brothers ride a wild ride of success as carefully constructed as Space Mountain or any of Disney's other amusement park rides, it's worth paying homage to a band that wasn't created by corporate goons; the Hanson brothers were merely shaped and molded. With the help of a few hand-holding songwriters and the Dust Brothers (whom you can also curse for Avril Lavigne). Another big difference, and a sign of how much more involved and serious Hanson has always been: they've made four albums in 10 years. The Jonas Brothers, on the other hand, have put out three albums in three years. Like the Beatles! Except with more financial backing!

Hanson debuted with their album Middle of Nowhere, which must be one of the most saccharine-sweet paeans to young teenage life ever crafted. However, it's possible to be terribly over-sweetened while also being spot-on -- early teen years can be pretty over-the-top and make you wanna say "Awwwww" in that cute way a lot. The album also contains moments of poignance and insight, not to mention great pop hooks, that suggested Hanson had legs their contemporaries might not.

I listen to Middle of Nowhere for the same exact reason I can't seem to turn off The Goonies whenever I see it on TV, because I love anything that celebrates the joys and miseries of those precious years in a sincere way. Even if it's a little cheesy and has a Cyndi Lauper song in it.

Yes, before Radiohead or Trent Reznor grew the testicular fortitude to, as Fleetwood Mac might say, go their own way, Hanson took that plunge. Rather than milking their "Mmm-Bop" fame by making more albums cut from the same cloth (and in Jonas Brothers-esque double-time), they chose to try and mature right along with Taylor Hanson's voice. They didn't wrap their second (non-Christmas) studio album for three years, basically flipping off anyone and everyone who figured Taylor Hanson would always sound like he was on helium and would milk success from his Young Michael Jackson sound.

Four albums in, Hanson hasn't done anything particularly revolutionary. They just make darn fine pop music heavy on 60s and 70s roots rock. They are the true life version of the Partridge family, except better songwriters and honest-to-God musicians.

No one who sticks with classic country or believes Metallica is king of the music hill could reasonably be expected to listen to Hanson songs and have a Road to Damascus-like conversion. If you don't enjoy pop, there's nothing in their collection that will raise your antannae. But it's a shame to me that this band, a real band that takes their craft seriously and are in it because they love music and always have, somehow got lumped in with all the others of their first album heyday. And the Jonas Brothers serve as a reminder of what Hanson could have been if they'd really wanted to, as Bob's last post discusses, Sell Out.

They're sugary-sweet pop, but all of us should find it in us to enjoy a Twinkie every once in a while. So quit hatin'. Enjoy some delicious pop goodness!

The four main Hanson albums as well as others can be purchased through both iTunes and Amazon.com.

13 comments:

John said...

Billy, I have to admit a bittersweet relationship wity Hanson. For years I played Neil Young and Bob Dylan and Bill Mallonee around my girls, hoping to mold their musical taste towards the cool. Then you burned my ex-wife a Hanson cd and all of a sudden, Alex is singing all the words to Mmm-bop and I knew that I'd lost that battle. It's some small consolation that the girls now can dig better music like the Sheds, Wreckers, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, but I find it a little sad that their first love was Hanson. Still, damn catchy tune, I haftadmit.

matt said...

I've always been a bit of a Hanson fan. STILL haven't seen em live, even though they come around here quite a bit..

Billy said...

Matt -- I'm with you. I was a child fever away from sneaking up to Knoxville in October for one of their shows. I'm only hoping I get another chance at it.

John -- The Wreckers and some of Costello's work are, IMO, right there in the same pop bowl as Hanson. Michelle Branch even makes a showing on their third album. Just sayin'.

John said...

The Wrecker's, yes. Elvis, no. Jesse loves to sing "Red Shoes! The angels want to wear my red shoes! Red Shoes!"

"I used to be disgusted. Now I try to be amused." One of rock's great lines.

Bob said...

Billy, why don't you write Elvis Costello a fan letter where you compare his work to Hanson?

By the way, I've enjoyed your "listen w/o prejudice" series and see no reason why you should end it. See who else might fit.

Billy said...

Not to worry, dear Bob. There are other series (serieseses?) planned and upcoming. "Head to Head" pits bands I think are cut from similar cloth against one another. And "Bands Not Worth a Penny" explores the various bands I regret ever spending money on in the first place.

And laugh or disagree all you like, but I think there's lots of similarity between Costello's Get Happy and Hanson. Blood + Chocolate or Punch the Clock? Less so. His 21st Century material. Not remotely.

Hank said...

Where is Crazy Beautiful? Best. Hanson. Song. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Your blog has been posted on a Hanson fan site so i thought i would come and take a look!
I love they way you describe their music, your pretty much bang on...however the whole not sell out thing may want to be reconsidered......recently they have taken to fucking off their fans and selling shitty wrapping paper and crappy valentine chocolates with the hanson symbol on it. ($25 for 12 chocolates and between $11-$32 shipping)
They like to come across as muscians who dont need to be huge, however i can assure you this is just an act!
Their nice guys but they always have an agenda.

Anonymous said...

reason i read it is the same as the comment above.. fan site.
anyway, i think youre totally right. when i first got into Hanson i thought it couldnt be happening cause theyre just not what youre supposed to listen to or whatever, but the music is just too damn good not to listen to!

anyway, i do think success is important to them, just not as important as making music the way they think is right. the main difference between the success Hanson had back in 97 and the success the jonas brothers are having is mainly, i think, that the jonas brothers dont seem to care as much about the music itself. just my opinion though:)

Anonymous said...

I just read this blog about Hanson and it makes me glad to see there are still people out there who "listen without prejudice". I agree, it is a real shame that Hanson are forgotten to be this one hit miracle and often not even given a chance.

I'm a big Hanson fan and I have all those four albums (plus more) - The Walk is amazing and inspirational. I can hardly wait for their next studio album!

Great blog, thanks!

Anonymous said...

To the anon. poster talking about the chocolates:
they need to be able to make some money so that they can continue to make music, so even though their merchandising is pretty lame, it's still there for a good reason.

anyways, this was a great read. thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hey! I like Randy Travis and Metallica and Hanson! There's no need to pigeonhole people into discreet little categories.

I also think some of H's songs are more than "Twinkies."

Anonymous said...

Bud, your link broke, but I tracked you down cause they said you had a good read. they were right.

Geoff