Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Ten Things to Know Before You Hit The Island






If you’re heading to Jamaica for the first time next week, you might be feeling a little apprehensive about this much-talked about Hanson event, which is now in its seventh year. So, as a semi-veteran (I have attended four BTTIs so far, 2015-18), I thought I’d share my Top 10 tips for a smooth and fun vacation at what some of us refer to as Hanson Summer Camp.

#1

Give yourself a chance to acclimatise to the Caribbean sun: wear plenty of sunscreen and take some breaks in the shade. Looking like a lobster for the rest of the event sucks, and looking like a lobster in your picture with the band sucks even more. Don’t forget that sunscreen even if the sky is overcast: last year I ended up with sunburn one side of my body just from sitting at the swim-up bar drinking shots to keep warm in the dreadful weather.

#2

It’s easy to get carried away when you first get to the all-inclusive but take it from me and pace yourself with the drinking: you don’t want to spend the evening semi-comatose in your room when everybody else is out socialising. And on no account ever drink two shots of neat gin battery acid at a Jamaican resort, even if it was brought to you by a friend to celebrate some great news you’d just received* (I’m looking at you, Kaitlin).

Go easy on the beverages
#3

Be chill (1). If you want to camp out from the crack of dawn to get a front row spot, by all means, camp out, but leave the Regular Hanson Show Combat Mode at home: the Island is not the place for line drama, hand numbers and scowling at other fans if they’re getting half an inch closer.

#4

Be chill (2). Stampeding towards the guys the moment they appear on the horizon will only make them want to leg it as fast as possible. Act normal and they might actually stop and chat to you. [I know that this will fall on deaf ears, but I had to say it anyway].

Talking to Zac in 2016

#5

Be prepared for unwelcome changes to your digestive system. All those sugary cocktails can play havoc with your gut and you might find yourself using the bathroom too much - or not enough. Pack some Imodium and a few sachets of Fybogel just in case. You don’t want to get to Pictures day looking like you’ve swallowed a watermelon - and yes, I speak from experience - I learnt my lesson in 2015.

#6

Roll with it. Plans go awry on the Island - nothing quite goes the way expect it, for some reason, so just go with the flow and take the opportunity to meet new people, go to dinner with someone you don’t know very well, talk to staff, explore the resort. Sitting on the sand for hours on end to preserve your spot is not going to be the kind of memory you’ll cherish for months on end when you get home. Again, I speak from experience: I missed out on the banquet under the stars in 2016 to save my spot and no, it wasn’t worth it.



#7

Decide on a ‘go-to’ drink that can be made quickly so that you won’t have to wait for ages for a Piña Colada as the show is about to start. Mine is Appleton and Coke, and ordering it with a dollar bill in your hand gets you swift service from the overworked bartender who will spot the golden combination of an easily made drink + tip.

#8
Due to an unknown universal law, Pictures Day at BTTI will always fall on the sunniest, hottest day of the entire event, even if you had monsoon weather until the day before. Therefore, dress accordingly and bring a hat for when you’re lining up in the sun. If you’re planning to wear Spanx under your dress, you have been warned. On the plus side, shapewear will make you sweat so much that afterwards you’ll feel like you’ve just had one of those slimming body wraps.

#9
If there’s a song you’d really like to hear and you get a chance to speak to one of the guys, do ask them if they could play it: they may well accommodate your request. (However, yelling your request during a set is mightily annoying).


#10
Share the love: tip the staff, but have a chat with them too. Find out about someone’s life, make a connection. Over the years, I’ve had some great conversations with the bartenders at the swim-up bars, Sophia, the beauty therapist at the spa, Uriah, the groundskeeper I saw every morning on my way to breakfast as he tended to the gardens. I’ll never forget chatting with our waiter Rogelio at the buffet in Cancun, despite the fact that he didn’t speak English and my understanding of Spanish is non-existent. On the last day, we hugged and took photos together. I looked like crap, so I won’t post it, but that brief connection with someone from a different part of the world, with a very different life to mine, will be something I’ll never forget.

These are just my top ten tips but everybody has their own - everybody experiences BTTI differently and there is no right or wrong way to do it: it’s your vacation. Just remember why we are all there: to hear some great music under the stars, in the company of friends and people from all over the world. If you’re like me, those memories will keep you going for the rest of the year and when you’re back on the daily grind, looking at those BTTI pictures on your commute to work will be guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

So go and pack that bag now, hit that Bob Marley playlist and get ready for an unforgettable time in crazy, beautiful Jamaica.


Back to the Island is an event hosted for Hanson by Island Gigs

Monday, 21 January 2019

What is String Theory? Flipping the record for Side 2





Reaching for the Sky Pt.2

The story continues:
As the boy grew to a man
He built tall ladders to ascend
And those around him said with spite
Risk of failure isn't worth the fight.

[Full lyrics on Hansonstage]

The song picks up from where Part 1 left off and tells us more about the boy, who is now striving against difficulties and fighting against all odds.

This Time Around

The general consensus is that the vocals were re-recorded for TTA - possibly due to the publishing rights still being owned by Def Jam. Isaac, in particular, sounds very much as ‘current’ Isaac as he belts out his verse.

But vocals aside, I keep forgetting that there’s an orchestra playing - it’s very subtle in the intro and my brain just tunes out all the new stuff and fixates on the familiar: i.e. a track I’ve listened to a million times. As the orchestra kicks in properly halfway through, so does the horns section, and it sounds like everything was thrown in indiscriminately, favouring noise over subtlety. All that is missing is a chorus line and pyrotechnics.

Something Going Round

This revisiting of a fan favourite from The Walk album is introduced by some seriously dramatic sounding strings which set the tone for the rest of the song. Although the vocals are clearly from the existing recording, SGR is one of the few tracks in the album that sounds different enough for my mind not to instantly default to the original version.

Battle Cry

Ahhh, Battle Cry….where to start? Thanks to my self-imposed String Theory embargo, I didn’t know anything about this song, so I went in with an unbiased mind, noticing, before anything else, that the guitar intro is totally ‘old school’ U2  - think Unforgettable Fire-era U2. Then the singing starts and…. what's going on? I can usually tell what brother is singing but this time the similarities between the two younger Hanson's voices is uncanny and for the first time in years I got Zac and Taylor mixed up, at least right up until around 0:33 In my defence, I think that’s also because in recent years, Zac seems to be favouring singing in a high key and falsetto over his deep, rich natural singing timbre - which he uses in this song.

At around the point at which Zac starts to sound like Zac, Battle Cry really starts to sound like something familiar, until the the chorus erupts and it all becomes clear: this is golden era, first-three-albums-era Killers, complete with Brandon Flowers-style histrionics, rousing chorus, insistent drums and sweeping strings. Possibly because of its distinctive retro sound, this song was love at first play for me - until I found out that it’s not a new song at all. It turns out that Battle Cry is a product Fools Banquet 2010, and was co-written by Zac and Carrick Moore Gerety, and later published by Carrick’s then band, Everybody Else.

I can’t pretend not to be at least a little disappointed that the best song in the album is not new material. Of course, that doesn't diminish the quality of the song itself, but I was all set for proclaiming to the world ‘See? See? Hanson can still write great songs’ - until I found out that it had been written 8 years ago, way before Anthem, the band’s last proper studio album, was released.

However, Battle Cry suits the orchestral treatment so well that it could almost pass as having been written specifically for this project. And Zac’s voice is a return to form: clean, powerful, free of all the ironic nods and winks of glam rock/Darkness influence of recent years. Especially when it comes to Hanson, earnestness always wins over knowing irony.

(If you fancy checking out the original - here it is. Carrick’s voice can’t compete with Zac Hanson’s but it’s a pretty good version nonetheless).



You Can’t Stop Us

An intro precedes the opening guitar of this Anthem-era track, followed by string arrangements that underscore the drums throughout the rest of the song. It just doesn’t work: the orchestra treatment really doesn’t suit this We Will Rock You homage - maybe it’s the annoying horns at 1:08, or the string intermission before the bridge at 1:49, which doesn’t add anything but succeeds in diluting the kickass vibe of the song.

Broken Angel

I had such high hopes for this song, which I never cared much for until Hanson started to perform it regularly in 2015 and suddenly, with Zac’s adult voice, it took a whole new dimension. And that’s where the problem lies for me, because, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Hanson have kept the old vocals from Underneath, which would have been recorded when Zac was about 18. Of course he had a good voice back then - for an 18 year old boy. Now he’s a grown man and his voice has so much more depth and richness and arguably the strongest pair of lungs of the three. So why did Zac not re-record the vocals?

Vocals aside, the orchestra doesn’t really seem to add much to the song - I expected more for a song that maybe most of all should have encapsulated the spirit of String Theory - the boy flying too high to reach for the sky.

Ultimately, Broken Angel is a missed opportunity of criminally huge proportions, and every time I listen to it I feel a wave of frustration for what it could have been and isn’t. And sadly, it sums up my feelings on the whole album, but for that you’ll have to wait for the conclusion - I’ll see you at the finale.

What Are We Fighting For

This little known song, from the 2015 Inside the Box Members EP, is an interesting inclusion to the album, but considering the theme, I can see how it fits. While I’d found the arrangements on the original version disappointing compared to the raw, ‘in progress’ demo from the ‘making of’ stream, I think the orchestral treatment actually improves this version. It’s one of those ‘good to hear as part of something else’ types of songs; it doesn’t really go anywhere, it doesn’t strike any particular chords but at the same time, it’s part of the journey - like the sound of the windscreen wipers on a long car ride on a rainy day.

Breaktown

You know when I said that ‘Broken Angel’ was a missed opportunity of criminally huge proportions? Actually, I was lying. That award goes to “Breaktown” - a song fans have been begging Hanson to release in an official version for years. We were treated to an incredibly live performance of it at BTTI 2017, and it was stunning. But once again, just like with Broken Angel, Hanson have recycled the old vocals from the demo that was part of the audio CD that came with the SETB documentary. It’s a crying shame, and one more reason to see this project in its live form.

[The clip below shows how Taylor sings it these days. Video credit to Emily Fuller].



No Rest For The Weary

One of the best songs from Loud, NRFTW has always stood out for Taylor’s great vocals and singalong chorus. But there is nothing in this version that particularly stands out to me, and the added orchestral sections feel tacked-on, replicating the existing tune without adding anything spectacularly different.

I Was Born

I like the first part of this version of the 2017 single a lot - until the chorus starts: then, whatever the orchestra is doing is actually weirdly grating. I wish I had a sufficient command of musical terminology to articulate what the orchestration of the chorus sounds to me - but in a nutshell, it sounds to me as if a deranged monkey with cymbals is going TA-DA! every few seconds. Know what I mean?

TA-DA!!!


Sound of Light

My least favourite song from the Sound of Light EP doesn’t sound radically different in this version and I am barely noticing the orchestra. I can't find anything else to say other than the EP version is far superior.

Tonight

The elusive ‘Tonight’ - one of Hanson’s most emblematic songs of recent times, and yet one that they hardly ever perform, thus belonging to the category of ‘Hanson Mysteries’. Much like the song that precedes it, the orchestra doesn’t add much to this new version - just a little bit of background strings here and there. Have I already used the phrase ‘missed opportunity’ at all in this review?

The Verdict




As I am finally getting round to posting this second part of my review, String Theory is already been out for three months and my impression is that it has left a lot of fans underwhelmed.

The problems start with the so called ‘storyline’: a boy striving for more, getting knocked down, finding himself on the brink of despair and finally rising again. It’s an uplifting story, for sure, but one that we have heard before in the Strong Enough to Break documentary and that is a big theme in Underneath. Although Hanson will not admit that the story is autobiographical,  it clearly is, and leads to the question, how many times can they get away with recycling this ‘Hanson against all odds’ narrative?

But if I could get past the predictable concept, what has been harder to swallow is the re-hashing of old vocals, which, in the case of Broken Angel and Breaktown actually misrepresent the band. To a casual listener, Zac sounds like a teenager, and Taylor like an angst-ridden 20-something with a nose cold. Why could Hanson not re-record those songs? How difficult would it be to organise it, especially as Hanson own their own studio?

Finally, the orchestra. I listen to classical music and although I am certainly no expert in the subject, to me a lot of the orchestral arrangements in this album sound very obvious, as if someone had just played around with the main tune and added instruments with Garage Band. Maybe David Campbell had used up all his better ideas on his last project?

Adding to the overall sense of disappointment was learning that the orchestral parts weren’t recorded live, ‘off the floor’, when a local orchestra would have been the obvious choice. The only possible explanations for this are cost and time, and I can’t help coming to the conclusion that cost and time have been determining factors in how the entire project eventually turned out. String Theory could have been terrific, but instead of going all the way and doing it properly, with new vocals and a more creative treatment of the songs, Hanson chose to make a sort of musical Frankenstein, tacking new onto old and hoping for the best.

Hence, as an album, String Theory is rather underwhelming: it should be reaching for the sky, but instead it stops halfway up the ladder and has a cup of tea.

I wanted to really love this album but all I can say is that it’s okay. Luckily, I will soon get a chance to see the live version on stage and I have no doubt that it will be an amazing experience, with the band performing alongside a real orchestra, bringing the songs to life with their adult voices - the way it should have been. Roll on, February.

String Theory is available from Hanson.net as well as all the main digital stores and streaming outlets. All details of the forthcoming European shows and tickets information also on Hanson.net



Saturday, 15 December 2018

What is String Theory? A close listen to Hanson’s orchestral album - Side 1



It was early 2018 when Hanson began to share cryptic messages asking ‘What is String Theory?’ through their official Twitter account. But the rumour of an orchestra project had been floating around a for a while - I had first heard about in Tulsa at Hanson Day 2017, when the band had dropped the information in front of a couple of fans with the calculated timing of a Soviet-style, well-oiled propaganda machine. It was clear that Hanson were preparing their fans for The Next Thing.

String Theory is now here, in the form of a double album and an orchestral tour that has taken Hanson to several North American cities and that will reach Europe and Australia in early 2019. I haven’t been to a String Theory show yet, and prior to the album release, I had tried not to listen to too many clips from the US tour, so as not to totally spoil my enjoyment for the tour and to let the album’s new orchestral arrangements surprise me. Now that I’ve had this double album on heavy rotation for a few weeks, I feel that I can at least express my judgement on the recorded project.

These are the opinions of a self-confessed music geek: if you are the kind of fan who will unquestioningly praise anything the band does, look away now. Music nerds, follow me: it’s time to geek out.

A Short Note on the Story

String Theory, as the 2018 Playbill explains, tells the story of a boy who ‘was never satisfied with seeing the stars through a spyglass’. In part one, Reaching for the Sky, ‘with each rung he climbs up the ladder of life he is faced with unforeseen challenges, tragedy, betrayal and the loss of innocence’. In part two, Battle Cry, ‘the boy returns to hope, and celebrates the obstacles within each extraordinary journey as a necessary part of seeking his purpose’.

Hanson chose songs to ‘fit’ these storyline and you can read Robyn Kessler’s excellent analysis of how each song tells a bit of the story on his guest post to this blog.

Side One

Reaching for the Sky

The album’s opening song introduces the boy, the protagonist of String Theory.

There’s a boy I used to know

He was always searching high and low

(Read the full lyrics on Hansonstage)

I am torn. RFTS is undeniably a good song, with a delicate, almost lullaby-like melody. It certainly sounds as if it was written with an orchestra in mind, with the strings arrangements beautifully complementing Taylor’s voice. It’s been a while since we’ve had this kind of vocal performance from him and this song showcases his voice at its best, with perfectly measured emotion and that a little bit of grit that keeps the delivery firmly on the right side of soul with only a small nod to Broadway.

The lyrics are what let this song down: they are not very original or particularly imaginative, and neither is the whole story around which ST is built. That’s one of my issues with String Theory as a project, but I'm afraid you’ll have to wait until my conclusions at the end of Part 2 to know more.

Joyful Noise

The String Theory version of Joyful Noise is, like many other songs in this album, structured around the original recording, with the orchestra arrangements added to the track featured in the 2016 Play EP.

I’ve always found that the production on the original track lacked something, so I find that the extra orchestral arrangements overall add to the song. I am also pretty sure that there’s been some serious tinkering at the mixing desk because if you listen closely, the audience singing now sounds different. This is especially evident during the ‘dance all night/find your courage’ bit: the new version sounds like a more even balance of male and female voices, and Hanson’s own voices, singing along with the ‘choir’ can be made out. And I am sure, absolutely positive that I can hear Isaac singing along to that chorus now.

Whatever they did, it was a wise decision that portrays the band as having a healthy mix of male and female fans - a subtle, deliberate gesture to change the generally perception of Hanson as teenyboppers’ idols for screaming girls.

Where’s the Love

Like all the songs from the Middle of Nowhere era, which would have presented a 2018 listener with baby Hanson voices, Where’s The Love has been re-recorded, with a great a capella intro and new arrangements make a regular staple of Hanson live shows sound a little fresher and new.

Dream It Do It

(Lyrics on Hansonstage) 

Dream It Do It is one of three three new, or better, unreleased by Hanson songs on the album.

Seamlessly following on from Where’s the Love by means of a very Broadway sounding orchestral intro, this is a song with a ‘big’, epic sweeping sound, and falls into the category of one of those uplifting tracks Hanson do so well. Lyrics-wise, dare I say it’s more of the same -

“If you can dream it/You can do it”

I have two observations to make on the subject: one, this is not a song for underachievers and two, I fear that it’s only a matter of time before Hanson fans start tattooing Dream It Do It on their already catchphrase-covered bodies. And I bet Hanson know that.

Mmmbop

I’m going to come out and say it: Mmmbop is one of the best songs in the whole album. The orchestra arrangements, especially after the first minute and a half, bring a new dimension to it, with the strings underscoring the chorus with an insistent but contrasting theme that seems to have divided fans, as half of my friends love it and the remaining half hate it.

I guess for me, though, what makes String Theory Mmmbop a winner are the newly recorded vocals,  as I am not a fan from 1997 (according to the Geneva Conventions that is a crime), and I don’t particularly enjoy the baby Hanson voices, so this is a win-win.

Chasing Down My Dreams

This rarely played live, relatively unknown song from the 2012 EP No Sleep for Banditos certainly fits, theme-wise, in the String Theory narrative, given its title and its lyrics. But Zac’s vocals were never great on that recording, which came after a series of all night writing sessions. Zac has three leads in the EP and his voice is noticeably strained in all of them, which is fine for a fanclub experiment in nocturnal creativity, but not ideal for a project of such grandiose ambitions. Considering that Zac has arguably the strongest voice of the three, reusing the 2012 recording does nothing to show his singing talent, and for all the added bells and whistles, the String treatment of Chasing Down My Dreams amounts to little more than window-dressing.

Tragic Symphony

Despite being the most aptly titled track in the album, Tragic Symphony doesn’t sound very different after the String Theory treatment. Once again, the existing vocals from the original recording have been used, and my brain tunes into the familiar, tuning out the orchestra entirely.

Got a Hold On Me

Although the vocals sound like the original recording from 2007, I do like the new arrangements, especially towards the middle of the track, when the strings come in and bring a sense of dramatic urgency that really adds to the song. Also, is it me or is there a kind of John Barry/James Bond vibe that kind of turns into bossa nova right at the end? No? Well, any excuse for a Martini is fine by me, so pass me the olives and press play for the next song.

Yearbook

Another song from Hanson’s early days, Yearbook benefits from newly recorded vocals, and that means that, even if the original has never been a favourite of mine, at least now I get to enjoy a version that doesn’t have baby Hanson voices. I can’t say the same for the orchestral arrangements, which disappear in the background without adding anything particularly different to what we know already. However, I have a feeling that Yearbook will sound terrific as a live performance - so I'm making a mental note to listen out for that in February.

Siren Call

Another deep cut from a Members EP, Siren Call practically screamed for orchestral arrangements. Instead of the electronic sampling found on the original, this haunting melody is underscored by some of the most interesting string accompaniment in the record so far. Also, and at the risk of incurring in the wrath of the Zac girls, I always found that Zac’s vocals were too loud and piercing in the original. Now the orchestra brings balance to the vocals, and the end result is a bigger, richer, more luscious sound that perfectly encapsulates that sense of being lured into something dangerous and beautiful while you’re finding yourself hopelessly adrift on stormy waters. 

I never thought I’d catch myself saying this but hell yeah: Siren Call is possibly the best song in this album.

The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty

Me Myself and I

This version of the Shout it Out song contains a very pleasant surprise as Isaac (who has no leads in the album) sings the second verse, appeasing the Isaac Fans just in time to avoid a villagers-with-pitchforks type of situation. Although Zac also sings a verse, you can’t really hear his voice that much because of the layers of harmonies. And that’s an issue with the song in general because the harmonies steal the show, and you forget all about the orchestra that is playing somewhere in the background.

WE WANT ISAAC! WE WANT ISAAC!

Stay tuned for Part 2 


Monday, 3 December 2018

Guest Post: The Meaning of String Theory: a song-by-song analysis by Robyn Kessler

This post was originally posted on the Hanson.net forum by Robyn under his screen name @robinbond. When I asked Robyn if I could link to the post on my review of the album, he pointed out that the post was on the Members Only side, which would have been inaccessible for non-members. So we decided to repost Robyn's analysis on my blog as a guest post where everybody will be able to read his insightful, detailed analysis. Thanks, Robyn, for letting me share it!

There's a boy I used to know - Reaching For The Sky (AMBITION SEARCHING FOR ONE’S PLACE IN THE WORLD)

If I could turn the world to a melody I think so many troubles would cease to be - Joyful Noise (MOTIVATION)

Look at what you're doing. Where's the love? It's not enough; it makes the world go round - Where's The Love

(ACKNOWLEDGMENT

This is the line drawn in the sand that turns a boy into a man - Dream It Do It (PROCLAMATION)

It's gone so fast... In a MMMBop it's gone - MMMBop (USE THIS MOMENT or else it's gone... compare with message of Tonight)

Now that I've started there's nothing standing in my way - Chasing Down My Dreams (DETERMINATION)

I'm caught up in a dark emotion; I'm giving you all that's left of me - Tragic Symphony (DESPAIR / FEELING SPENT)

I should have gotten out when I thought I could - Got A Hold On Me (QUESTIONING CONTINUING)

YEARBOOK is the song that the whole show hangs on... which is (I think) why Hanson said that this show answers a question they've been asking for a long time... actually, everyone has been asking Where did Johnny go? -- if we take Johnny as a personification of the hopes and dreams we had of who we would become, the song's place in the show makes sense. Considering  the lines selected. Yearbook is actually a framework for the whole String Theory story. The lyric in the song “sometimes I think I hear him calling out my name; sometimes I wonder maybe we’re to blame” speaks to the fact that only we can take responsibility for the person we became. That said…

Where did Johnny go? – Yearbook (SEARCH FOR IDENTITY / OUR PLACE IN THIS WORLD )

No straighter path than to struggle, ‘cause when we rest we fear and it draws them near - Siren Call

(ENCOUNTERING OBSTACLES)

When I'm alone in a cold dark room, there's still someone that I can tell my troubles to - Me Myself And I (FINDING HOPE)

Those around him said with spite "risk of failure isn't worth the fight - Reaching For The Sky Part 2  (ENCOUNTERING PEER PRESSURE)

I heard them say that dreams should stay in your head ... I started feeling like I don't want to fight... and we won't go down  - This Time Around (OVERCOMING NEGATIVITY)

Only you know what you lost - Something Going Round (IDENTIFYING THE ROAD TO RECOVERY)

Tomorrow the march will begin again; Every time you fall face-down in the dirt, I never knew before - don't be afraid “ - Battle Cry (PERSEVERENCE)

You're in for a big surprise - you can't stop us now - You Can't Stop Us (COMMITMENT)

A high-flyer's what I want to be... I'm gonna run away and learn to fly like you... you can't bring me down… what

am I supposed to be? - Broken Angel (SETTING GOALS)

We dreamt a dream, then lost our way, in the dark of night, at the break of day; How did we go wrong? Where

do we belong? - What Are We Fighting For? (REFLECTION)

I've been losing for so long I can't begin... you're so insecure, you're hurt right down to the core - you're only

stuck in your pain – Break Town (ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF CONTEXT)

Yesterday was just fine but the future's all I've got time for... my feet can't move to where my heart just ain't - No

Rest For The Weary (FOCUS)

I was born to be someone no-one's ever been before - I Was Born (HAVING A UNIQUE VISION)

Always had a taste for another thrill; when I hit a wall and I'm put to the test - Sound Of Light (PUTTING

VISION INTO PRACTISE)

Don't care what has come before; tomorrow's an open door; Don't wait for tomorrow, cos it just might be tonight – Tonight (CARRYING THE VISION FORWARD INTO FULFILLMENT)


Robyn Kessler is the admin of Hanson South Africa and a great supporter of the Take The Walk campaign. Check out his Facebook Page and his Twitter account.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Animal Instincts - a song-by-song review of Hanson's 2018 Members EP


Are you ready? Let's start.












Working

When I first heard the preview clip that was posted on HNET, I wasn’t too impressed. It sounded an awful lot like Til New Year’s Night - one of Isaac’s leads on the Finally, It’s Christmas album: a Chuck Berry-style rock’n’roll song with a ‘50s vibe and easy rhymes. Fun, but not particularly memorable.

Hearing the full song, however, changed my mind. Blame the intro, with its infectious guitar riff and catchy handclaps: it’s impossible to sit still while you listen to it, even if it’s only for some subtle Isaac-style pigeon-neck moves. Or blame Carlos Sosa’s saxophone: this is one of those rare exceptions when I actually welcome a horns part. And what to say about ‘that’ guitar solo, which, according to the liner notes, was provided by none other than J.D. McPherson? Did he owe Hanson a favour for bailing on BTTI 2017? Who knows, and I would have liked to be able to say that Working featured Isaac’s best guitar solo to date, but maybe that’s still to come.

Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are this song’s weak point: like in the case of Till New Year's Night, you get a feeling that Isaac wasn’t going for deep and meaningful here:

Six am rolling out of bed
Putting on my pants, fixing my hair

I’m sure we can all imagine Isaac fixing his hair at six in the morning (#OldManPriorities), but what about the rest?

Talking to my boss about my check
‘Cause my payroll’s so small gives me a crick in the neck


Blue Collar Hanson?

Working is an act of rebellion to blue collar life, but Isaac Hanson is not exactly Springsteen and I can’t quite buy the idea of a Hanson brother clocking into factory job and complaining about his wages - and no, negotiating a severance deal from Def Jam doesn’t quite count as working class life experience. But this is classic rock’n’roll after all, and this kind of song is more about style than content. Besides, Isaac’s vocals are absolutely on point, so I think I can give him a pass. Is this going to be my favourite Isaac lead of all time? No. But play it again, Sam.

Skip or Play? Play!

Goldminer

I may not be, technically, a ‘Zac girl’, but some of my favourite Hanson songs of all time are also Zac leads: Fire on the Mountain, The Walk, I Am. But I do find that a lot of Zac leads sound quite similar, especially in recent years: Juliet, Get So Low, and most recently Ghost Writer, these songs all seem to follow the same template, all underscored by that kind of Beatles-esque, almost percussive piano style. Unfortunately, Goldminer also falls into that category and is so similar to last year’s Ghost Writer that I keep mixing the titles in my head - as they both start with the letter ‘G’.

What do you mean this sounds like "Ghost Writer"?

The lyrics, as you may have guessed, are about a woman who is after men’s money:

She’s on the prowl, looking for money
She’s a gold miner
Stealing your cents
Robbing you blind
Open your eyes, this girl’s nothing but trouble.

I won’t launch into an in-depth, feminist-centred tirade, mostly because I think that laziness, rather than misogyny, is the driving force behind these lyrics. Goldminer leaves me indifferent, and I expect more from Zac Hanson: without going as far back as his most inspired, Walk-era output, even last year’s Ghost Writer was better than this.

Skip or Play? Skip.

Young and Dumb

What does this ethereal, drum sequencing led, synth-heavy intro remind you of? Cast your mind back to 2015’s Inside the Box members EP and to its best song, the achingly beautiful Isaac lead Grace Unknown. Yes? Can you hear the resemblance? Good, let’s keep going. Zac’s drums kick in about 30 seconds into the song, a slow, dull beat that gradually builds up into a crescendo that gives the song a sort of big ‘80s sound, of the kind that almost screams for a music video and a giant fan pointed at Zac’s hair.

As this is a Taylor lead, unsurprisingly the lyrics have “Taylor” written all over them:

I pursued happiness
A tapestry of fluorescent bliss
But I’m dying on the vine

(*Nerd Alert: in the liner notes, 'fluorescent'  is incorrectly spelt as ‘florescent’- a quick look at the dictionary confirms that even in US English there should be a ‘u’. 'Florescent' is a totally different word.)

Don’t recognize the view from here
A poor reflection in the rearview mirror

Aside from the way Taylor says ‘mirror’ as ‘me-yah’, which is a prime example of Hanson’s quirky enunciation, these are lyrics you can geek out to - vague enough to appeal to a wide range of listeners, but personal enough to let you believe you might be getting some insight how Taylor really feels.

Like Isaac in Working, in Young and Dumb Taylor, too, shows a fascination with low paid jobs; it is, however, true that poverty and struggle have been romanticised in literature, poetry and the folk tradition since the beginning of time.

I tried living in the ivory tower
Held down three jobs at ten an hour
Just to get into the door

However, there are a couple of lines that could come from Taylor’s personal experience:

Been a hero and a deadbeat
A pencil pusher and a piece of meat

Whether they’re based on life experience or purely fictional, these are good lyrics - the kind that you want to dissect, speculate and interpret to your heart’s content. Then, the bridge comes at 2:35 and it’s pretty epic:

It’s hard enough
To know it’s not enough to know better
If these aching bones
and these jagged stones go together

Can you hear the Phil Collins-era Genesis? Hanson have given them a nod before, when they covered Invisible Touch during a Livestream in November 2014. That bridge is a perfect amalgamation of Genesis and Phil Collins’ ‘80s solo work, and on top of that, it features some killer Hanson harmonies. I also love how, in the chorus, 'young' rises and 'dumb' falls, perfectly conveying the song's sense of disillusionment, of youth slipping away.

Like Grace Unknown, Young and Dumb is a song with a ‘big sound’ and a chorus that soars; Taylor’s voice is great when he sticks to his mid-range, as he did in No Rest for the Weary from 2016's Loud EP. The lyrics are imaginative and inspired, with the small, notable exception of a couplet at the end:

Ashes to ashes
We’ll all end up in a casket

Maybe if the EP recording process didn’t happen in the space of a week, those two lines would have been dragged into the trash basket, or filed in the outtakes folder with other material that sounded great at 2:00 AM in a sleep-deprived hallucinatory state. Where the first line soars with its biblical tone, rhyming it with 'casket' in the second line slams it back down to the ground, and any sense of poetry is lost to a word coming straight out of a funeral director's catalogue. ('Grave' would have been a better choice of words, but of course, it didn't rhyme).

I bagged the best song of the EP!

As usual, I’m nit-picking: Young and Dumb is, without a doubt, one of the best songs Hanson have recorded since Sound of Light and one that showcases Taylor’s voice at its best.

Play or Skip? Play.

Bad for Me

First of all, let’s all consider this: Animal Instincts features two Isaac leads. Two. This, alone, is a reason to celebrate. There have been EPs with no Isaac lead at all, and EPs with Isaac leads that didn’t sound much like Isaac leads, like What’s Your Name from Music Made for Humans. In terms of Isaac-awesomeness, this year’s EP brings us a bumper crop.

With this premise in mind, I think it’s fair to say that Bad for Me doesn't stray too far from familiar territory: it’s a mid-tempo ballad, with typical ‘tortured Isaac’ lyrics, very much along the lines of Live for Me and Being Me (interestingly, all three songs have 'me' in the title). The vocals are soft at first, almost whispered; so you’re almost unprepared for the rush of emotion that comes at 1:40, when Isaac cranks it up a few notches and belts it out, his voice almost cracking, the way it does when Isaac sings like he means it. That’s the kind of Isaac lead I want to hear, and even if I don’t care much for love songs, I could hear Isaac sing a recipe book in this way and I'd be happy.

Play or Skip? Do you even have to ask?

Sophia

If Isaac fans are in total shock over this year's two leads, Zac fans are by now used to getting multiple offerings from Little Drummer Boy. If I were Taylor, I’d start to worry. But I digress: let’s talk about Sophia:

- Standard fare of piano-as-percussion: check
- Beatles-esque melodies: check
- A woman’s name as the title: check
- Lyrics about a quirky, whimsical, ‘free spirit’ female character: check.

This is all beginning to sound like Zac-Hanson-by-numbers and I can’t help thinking, ‘come on Zac, you know you can do better than this’. I hope that this only a phase, possibly a consequence of all the time and effort the band has been putting into the String Theory project. With the yearly EP happening regardless of other commitments, Hanson have to come up with five songs, whether their creative juices are depleted or not. It’s the trade-off for their ‘contract’ with us fans and one that I will still take over getting no new music at all.

With its simple piano chords and catchy chorus, Sophia will keep playing in your head long after you’ve hit the ‘stop’ button, and soon you'll be blasting Slayer to cleanse your hearing, all to no avail, because after one single spin, SOPHIIIIIIAAAAAA will have wormed its way into your brain and only horse sedatives will put you out of your misery and make it stop.

Play or Skip? Skip, or be ready to face the inevitable consequences.




The Final Verdict

There’s a lot that I don’t love about Animal Instincts, starting with its title, which isn’t very imaginative and bears no connection to any of the EP's five songs. As for the artwork, I don't understand it: is it supposed to be a kind of ‘so bad it’s good’ literal interpretation of, well, animal instincts? Is it supposed to appeal to dog loving fans*? Or are Hanson testing the market to see what they can get away with? After the “Fanson for Life” merch, everything is possible, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a range of Hanson-branded pet merch appeared in the store at some point in the near future (believe it or not, people have been asking for it on the forum).

[*Confession: I am not a fan of dogs, with the exception of the two pictured below]

Baxter, (left) and Penny (right). Credit to Jodie.

In all honesty, I had low expectations for this EP for several reasons, not least because this year Hanson had been keeping very quiet about the whole writing and recording process, with no weekly ‘making of’ streams*, which lead me to suspect that maybe the band had reservations about the quality of the songs. As it turned out, things had just got too hectic at Hanson HQ before the EP’s official release and the 'Making of' Animal Instinct streams are now happening, starting on Friday 8 June. There will be a total of 5 streams, one each Friday through 6 July and looping throughout each weekend. So if you haven't renewed your membership yet, now's the time.

Ultimately, what matters is the music, and this year’s EP contains, at least for me, more hits than misses, owing it in part to the two, did I mention two, Isaac leads and a really strong Taylor lead which is already showing early signs of becoming a fan favourite. Sadly, both Zac leads are this EP’s weakest links for me, so I’ll keep listening to his best work and hope that any future songwriting will be more inspired.



Animal Instincts is not going to replace Sound of Light as my favourite Hanson Members EP of all time, but neither is it going to take the bottom place in the list (that belongs to Music Made for Humans). What is certain is that the 2018 Members EP will go down in Hanson history as The One With Two Isaac Leads. If that’s a sign of things to come, suddenly the future is looking bright in Hansonland.

It's about dogs, apparently


Animal Instinct is included as part of the 2018 Fan Club membership. Join today at Hanson.net 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Fired Up in the Fjords: Norway Gets the Hanson Fever

At some point in 2017 Hanson announced that in 2018 they would play three We Love The '90s festivals in the Norwegian cities of Stavanger, Oslo and Bergen.

Hanson had played at the same kind of festival a couple of years earlier in Belgium, and back then I had decided not to go: the idea of a whole night of the worst type of '90s music was my idea of hell. For that exact reason, I wasn’t planning to go to Norway either, until a full Hanson show was announced out of the blue in early December. The location? Ålesund, a town straddling two islands in the north of the country, a stone’s throw from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site Geiranger fjord. I’d wanted to visit Norway for a long time: in my teens I'd been a fan of the Norwegian pop-band A-ha, and had Norwegian friends, one of whom I’m still in touch with. It was fate: I was going to Norway.

Don't know a-ha? You should.

The Stars Align in Ålesund

I had no great expectations for this show, its main appeal being the fact that the venue, the Terminalen Bysene, holds approximately 600 people. I love small venues, and although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Hanson play to a smaller crowd before (Rome 2013: about 25 people and a couple of stray dogs*), this was definitely going to be the smallest venue so far. As Hanson had never played in Norway before, I figured that the setlist would be a copy-and-paste job from the MOE tour, with no major surprises, but still a good excuse to visit Norway.

[*Hyperbole warning. But Rome was a very under-sold show.]

Ålesund

You know when the stars align and everything turns out to be pretty much perfect? Well - that was Ålesund. The day before the show, a friend of mine won a M&G through a competition organised by the venue. Unlike official M&Gs, my friend’s prize included a plus one, and she invited me to go with her. That threw the both of us into a spin, as we were planning to have a very laid back, ‘turn up whenever’ show day. Instead, the Hair, Wadrobe & Make-up Department would have to work overtime because, well, there would pictures, right?

On the morning of the show, with no plans to line up early, I was putting on the 14th layer of make-up when one of my friends, out on a reconnaissance, texted me to say that the venue were doing their own numbering system, and were telling fans to take a number and come back at doors. That kind of thing had never happened before, and let’s just say that my choice of booking the closest hotel to the venue, rather than one with the nicest rooms, had once again paid off*. Within approximately three nanoseconds, I had legged it downstairs, grabbed some friends from the café, and before you had time to say her er jeg, we were in front of a lovely Australian woman called Esther, who handed me a ticket numbered 26. Not bad, not bad at all, considering that this was going to be a zero-effort type of show anyway. So I went back to my room and set out to add the 15th layer of make-up; after three nights of getting very little sleep, that was more of a necessity rather than an exercise in vanity.

[* Like in Paris 2017, when I forgot my ID for the MOE and was able to run back to the hotel which was only a couple of doors down from the venue.]

If only all venues did this.

My friend had been told to be at the venue by 5:15 PM, so we decided that we had to be there by 5 PM at the latest, because the venue was a whole 30 seconds walk from the hotel and anything could happen along the way: we could be abducted by aliens, or fall into a manhole, or be hit by an avalanche from the nearby mountains. It was not worth the risk. We got there early and chatted with the other lucky winners as we waited. After a while, Esther came out and said we could go in individually or in pairs. I told my friend, ‘you’re the winner, your call!’, but she decided that we’d go in together, for mutual moral support. I was very happy with that, because by that point I was suffering with a touch of Hanxiety*.

When I walked into the venue though, as it usually happens, my nervousness disappeared: I’d met them before and if there is one Hanson Dogma I believe in, is that Isaac, Taylor and Zac are really down-to-earth guys who always do their best to make their fans feel at ease.

[*A well-known condition among fans of the band.]

Totally not nervous.

It was warm inside, and as Esther showed us where we could put down our coats and bags, I couldn’t help noticing a robed, bearded Orthodox priest, just hanging around as if he totally belonged in a music venue: an incongruous presence during a rock’n’roll band’s M&Gs session. Interesting, I thought.

Hanson greeted us warmly, and as I shook Isaac's hand, I joked "we might have met once before". Indeed, only four months before, I'd had my photo taken with the band at BTTI 2018.
“How’s Norway treating you?” Zac asked me.
“Cold.” I said.
I always find Zac really easy to talk to, and once again, I ended up talking to him the most, about Norway and our sightseeing plans for Oslo. When I asked Isaac if they had any surprises planned for the setlist, it was Zac who replied, saying something like ‘you guys have been to a lot of shows but these fans haven’t ever seen us play before’, to which Isaac added that maybe they’d do "I Don’t Want to Go Home" (spoiler: they didn’t). Before I knew it, Esther was calling time and as we said our goodbyes Zac, said to me ‘I hope you have another layer to wear’. He obviously knows that Hanson hypothermia is a real phenomenon. We picked up our coats and bags and wrapped up warm before walking back out into the Norwegian chill. A couple of G&Ts were swiftly downed: our close encounter with the band finally over, we could finally relax*.

[*We didn't want to risk getting accidentally drunk before our M&G.]

Meeting Hanson with my friend.

In years of going to concerts, I can honestly say that I have never come across better venue management than at the Terminalen: doors opened at 8 and by around 7 PM, the wonderful Esther started to get everybody in line by ticket number. As more people arrived, she would call out the previous number, so that every new arrival could slot into the right spot in the queue. It was a concert goer's dream, and it showed that queue management can be done, even at Hanson shows. Esther, if you are reading this, know that you are now a legend among Hanson fans, and have joined the Pantheon of Venue Staff, together with PRY security in Milan, Laura from ShowSec in London and Angela, also from ShowSec, in Manchester.

I had expected to be standing at the back for this show, but because of my number and the fact that the Isaac side is always less in demand*, I had a perfect second-almost-front row, behind my friend and another girl, and although I wasn’t quite at the barrier, I had nobody in front of me. You know what that means, right? An unobstructed view of Isaac and a half decent chance of taking some good pictures.

[*The fools!]




The Show
(Setlist)

To my surprise, the setlist turned out not to be a complete copy and paste from the MOE tour. The show opened with “Waiting for This”, and stayed with Shout it Out with “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’”. If what followed, “Where’s the Love”, was a predictable choice, “Runaway Run” wasn’t. As I had expected, the set was heavy on the first three albums and Shout It Out; strangely, The Walk was completely omitted although * and Anthem was given a nod through “Fired Up” and “Get The Girl Back”. There were a couple of welcome and rarely played (at least in Europe) choices like “Musical Ride” and “Wish I Was There”, which was performed at the front of the stage, so that we could at least see Zac. “Penny and Me” was given a poignant acoustic performance, and Hanson’s 2017 single, “I Was Born”, got everybody pumping their fists in the air.

[*Thank you Viktoria for reminding me that "Been There Before" is actually from The Walk"!]



It was a great, high energy concert and the guys looked as if they were really enjoying themselves.  The crowd, which was mostly made up of Norwegians with a smattering of other nationalities, was equally warm and responsive, with none of the aggressive, obnoxious behaviour that we sometimes have to suffer at Hanson shows.

With my friends at the show.
Afterwards, as I was making my way out of the venue, I spotted another Orthodox priest. Wait, no, there were two. No, maybe three? By the time we had made it outside, a whole gaggle of Orthodox priests and a nun had emerged and were standing by the van, clearly waiting for Hanson. I love this band - where others would have groupies and assorted hangers-on as their entourage, these guys bring a posse of Orthodox priests to their shows. If this isn’t subverting the rules of rock’n’roll, I don’t know what is.

It didn’t take long for Hanson to come out, but they quickly got into the van, together with the priests. I felt a bit sorry for the Norwegian fans, who were hoping to meet the guys, but soon Isaac came out of the van again, and asked for everybody to stand back. Why was Isaac, and not the driver, being sent out to direct traffic? Before I had time to take to Twitter and complain for the inhumane treatment of the most put-upon Hanson brother, however, Zac and Taylor had also come out of the van, and soon all three were signing autographs and taking photos with fans, including two of my friends. They didn’t stay out very long, possibly because it would have meant imposing on their clerical guests, but it was a nice gesture towards the Norwegian fans who had never had the opportunity to meet the band before.

My verdict on the show? It was one of the best regular Hanson shows I’ve been to so far, also partly thanks to the small, intimate venue that looked packed without feeling claustrophobic. The setlist was less predictable than I had expected, and let’s be fair, I’ve been spoilt with the BTTI shows over the past four years, so I’m bound to always miss the inclusion of EP songs and deep cuts. Undoubtedly, Hanson’s choice of setlist made sense for this particular show, and I hope that Norwegian fans will get to hear some of the rare stuff soon.

Next stop? Oslo.



Questioning My Life Decisions in Oslo: a preamble (feel free to skip)

As Hanson fans from ‘way back when’ tend to be in their early 30s now, it’s not surprising that for a lot of them the 90’s will always be the decade that gave us the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. But I am older, and for me, the '90s will only ever mean the Seattle grunge scene and, to a lesser extent, the Britpop and indie music I danced to in dingy, sweaty basement nightclubs every Friday and Saturday night as a university student in the mid-nineties. As for the other stuff that was in the charts, I did my best to avoid it. I remember getting dragged to some awful nightclubs in my last year of high school and wondering how on earth my friends could dance to the ghastly dance/techno that was being played. I'd stumble upon a TV show in which members of a boyband would be gyrating on a stage, miming to a song, no instruments to be seen. That was not what I called music.

Ask me if I “Love the '90s” and I will tell you I do, but not those '90s.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.


The Show
[Setlist]

So I knew I was going to hate the rest of the ‘artists’ (quotation marks are necessary) at the Oslo festival, but I had seriously underestimated just how much.
It was horrendous. Appalling. Atrocious. Awful. Dire. Dreadful. Horrible. Horrid. Horrifying. Ghastly. Even the Thesaurus is running out of words. Basically, it sucked.

And what can be worse than being stuck watching a series of ‘acts’ whose performances make you want to swallow broken glass? It’s doing so in a massive arena full of the worst type of drunk, aggressive, obnoxious people. Without going into specifics, let me tell you, I spent the duration of the show trying to stop some drunk, obnoxious women behind us from attacking one of my friends.

As the ‘party’ went on, some of us started to tweet Hanson, begging them to come on stage before we lost the will to live. Luckily, approximately three quarters into the ordeal, techs began to bring instruments on stage. Actual instruments! Up until that point, there had been no sign of a musical instrument anywhere, which really tells you something about the calibre of talent performing. When I saw the gear being wheeled out on stage, I felt a wave of admiration for ‘our band’ - the only band who had the right to be called so. And I was proud of being there for Hanson, and not for some scantily clad, gyrating douchebag.

Finally our band came on stage, Isaac more badass than ever in his suit and shades. Before playing a single note, Hanson had already put all the other acts to shame.



We all knew the setlist would be very short and mostly made up of MON and TTA-era songs. But I was surprised to hear “Waiting for This” as the opening track, as I hadn’t expected anything from Shout it Out for this show. “In the City” was another very welcome addition and a less predictable choice from Hanson’s second album.




Until Oslo, I’d never seen Hanson play in such a large venue before; the only time I’d seen them perform to a larger-than-usual crowd was at the Hop Jam last year (2017). But the Telenor Arena is huge, and although I will always prefer small venues, it’s pretty impressive to see the band play on a massive stage, to a huge crowd and with good lighting. Undeterred by the largely inebriated and chemically altered crowd, Hanson played like they meant it: as if they were playing a real Hanson show, to a crowd of devoted Hanson fans. The guys took no shortcuts, and when the chorus of “If Only” came on, they jumped up and down, knowing that at least some of the audience, mostly on the front row, would know the drill. And from what I could see, all the Hanson fans at the front gave back as much as they could, myself included: that was not the time to feel jaded about the “Where’s the Love” finger dance.



After six songs, it was all over, and the moment the guys disappeared backstage, my friends and I sprang into action with a renewed sense of purpose: to get the hell out of there.

As I emerged into the freezing Oslo night, two distinct thoughts popped into my mind: one, that ‘my’ band had totally slayed it on stage. And two, that I’d never go to a We Love the '90s 'party' ever again.

We left Norway the following day. I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t have to endure another festival of horrors, but a little sad that my Scandi-themed Hanson adventure was over, and that I wouldn’t get to see Bergen. I hope that one day I’ll go back to Norway, take a cruise along the fjords and eat the equivalent of my own body weight in Norwegian bread and pastries. And hopefully Hanson will play there again soon: if the opportunity came up, it would be great to have a repeat of Ålesund, sharing the music with some of the friendliest, most chill people in the fan base. Until then, ha det bra, Norge.

Norwegian bakeries = heaven

A bar with a view in Oslo

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

It's Not You, It's Me: am I heading for a Hanson breakup?

A Preamble

This is a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but which I have resisted until now. I already have a reputation for being outspoken and I know that some fans consider that a Crime Against Hanson. In some circles, simply being critical of the band will brand you as a ‘negative’ person. But being a fan of a band is not a paid gig, and I have no editor to answer to, or corporation to please. I’m only a fan, without any sort of special status in exchange of which I could reasonably be expected to toe the 3CG party line.

My 7-Year Musical Ride So Far


6 years, soon to be 7

I joined the fanclub in April 2012, completely unaware that 2012 was going to pan out as a very difficult year for the band, with the notorious ‘near-split’ happening, with an album that was proving difficult to finish and a whole load of tumbleweed standing in for content on the website. Not knowing, however, any better, I threw myself into the fan experience with the recklessness and enthusiasm of an absolute beginner. Then, in 2013 Sound of Light EP landed, closely followed by an album - the long awaited ‘Anthem’. That winter, Hanson toured in Europe. I saw six shows, got a M&G and met the guys a few times. I was in music (and fan) heaven. 2014 was relatively busy too, with the launch of a new website (still in BETA in 2018); several livestreams followed. In January 2015 I went to my first BTTI and despite a far from perfect resort and inclement weather, I thought the experience was absolutely magical.

After the walk in Glasgow, 2013. It was my first ever Hanson show.
I will soon be renewing my membership for the 7th time but a lot has changed in the way I feel about Hanson as a band: a lot of the magic has gone, and so far, no amount of self-delusion on my part has managed to bring it back. So, what’s changed? Is it me, or is it Hanson? If I were to take inventory of my seven years as a fan, what issues would crop up? If I were to break up with Hanson, what reasons would I give them? So, come and join me on the therapist’s couch: we’re going for couples counselling.

Talking it through together

Gripe #1: The Music - or Lack Thereof

I love ‘my’ bands to make music. This might sound old-fashioned, but I like new music at regular intervals. I also like to feel that the song I’m listening to actually means something to the artist who made it. Music is one of those ephemeral art forms that allow little margin for cheating, and if there’s no real inspiration behind it, it usually shows. Which brings me to the yearly Members EPs.

Yes, Hanson release some music every year in the form of Members-only EPs. Without a doubt, some of the band's best songs are hidden gems to be found in those EPs. But for every “Grace Unknown” there are several ‘experimental’ songs, sadly forgettable filler tracks with predictable lyrics and little originality. The problem with Members EP is that they are usually written and recorded in the space of a week. Hanson say that they choose to work to such a narrow time frame in order to challenge themselves; but it’s hard not to be cynical and think that, actually, setting aside a single week means getting the task over and done with as quickly as possible. Which, inevitably, raises the question: do actually Hanson still enjoy writing together?

Whatever the answer, the fact remains that a week’s work is unlikely to produce a masterpiece; that EP is not going to be some kind of abridged "Sgt Pepper", or "Pet Sounds", or "The Joshua Tree". Good work takes time, and I find it worrying that Hanson seem to want to spend as little as possible doing the one thing they have committed to doing every year: writing those five songs.

As a result, EPs are often hit and miss, with potentially good songs that could however have done with some polishing or which scream for better production. Lately, a lot of the members songs have a certain derivative quality, eliciting a lot of ‘this sounds like’... ‘that’s an 80s song’... ‘that’s a 60s song’. Those songs can be undeniably fun and catchy, but are hardly the kind of music that will stand the test of time. Take, for instance, “I Don’t Want To Go Home", from the "In Color" EP. It's a great Hanson event anthem, but unashamedly manipulative: it’s about us, it flatters us, it’s self-reflective. But is it a song with universal appeal? Would it speak to the heart of a non-fan in the same way as “These Walls” or “World’s on Fire” spoke to me in 2012, when all I knew about Hanson was contained in a few gigabytes of MP3s that a friend had put on a DVD for me?

The other problem with Members EP music is that those songs are hardly ever get played outside of fanclub events - almost as if Hanson themselves know that that's not good enough material to ‘cross over’ to the non-hardcore crowd. On some of the rare occasions that those songs are played - at BTTI or at the odd pre-show MOE, Hanson appear not to have even rehearsed them, or bothered to learn the lyrics. And when the artists themselves don’t treat their own work with respect, it’s hard not to feel that maybe that work is not the real thing, but only a stocking filler to keep fans happy until the main present arrives - an album. Only, there hasn’t been an album since 2013. That’s right - it’s been five years since Anthem. Where’s the band's burning desire to make new music, to connect with people all over the world?
Anthem: Hanson's last proper studio album

Through the nostalgia-driven Middle of Everywhere CD and tour, Hanson managed to recapture the attention of a lot of old fans from 1997 who had lost interest in the band. So why not take advantage of the increased numbers and hit a bigger, more eager fan base with a new album? Wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do? Instead, Hanson, still hot on the heels of the MOE tour, release a Christmas album, a novelty record of limited seasonal appeal, largely marketed to the scores of the recently acquired fans. For the true music fan, a Christmas album just doesn’t cut it.

And this is why I think that maybe the problem lies with me: maybe Hanson are no longer a band for the music geek. Maybe they never were, and I was just lucky to stumble across them at a time when writing new material was still a priority for them. Maybe I am just the wrong type of fan for the band - I care about songs, lyrics, I search for meaning. I nerd out with friends over a song's smallest detail. Yes, I’m hard to please - but that’s because I have been obsessively listening to music since I was about ten years old, back when all you had was an LP and its sleeve notes, or maybe, if you were really lucky, a few magazine cuttings with a months-old interview to your favourite band. There was no internet, there was no Google, and there were no selfies to post on Instagram. Believe it or not, back then it was all about the music.

It's music I want. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10


Gripe #2 :The Good Ol’ Days Have Long Gone

Remember when the Hanson Day concert would be streamed live for everybody back home to enjoy? No? You must be a new member. Believe it or not, that kind of thing happened regularly, and I used to set my alarm clock to 1 or 2 AM, get up and watch the stream in the company of friends who, from all over the world, would also be sitting bleary eyed in front of their screen, snacks and drinks in hand.

Remember the old site?

We used to discuss the streams live on Twitter, joking, over-analysing haircuts and facial expressions. Usually, as part of a livestream, there would be a Q&A and a live performance; it all had a kind of homemade, amateur feel, but we loved it. It was what kept us renewing our membership, year after year; it was something we actively looked forward to.

Until it all disappeared.


The old, homemade Livestreams
Now, any mention of Livestreams has been removed from the Membership description on HNET, and the only streams we have seen in recent years are pre-recorded, ‘making of’ videos. What kind of content do we get these days? The odd blog post, a few Instagram stories; meanwhile, the band’s official Twitter account appears to have been farmed out to a social media agency, who are clearly under the misguided impression that Hanson’s Twitter following consists mostly of 12-year olds. How else can you explain that, only recently, valuable band time was taken up by creating an original set of GIFs? What band films original footage with the sole purpose of creating a set reaction gifs? And more to the point, surely the whole point of reaction GIFs is that they’re supposed to be spontaneous, not staged? Someone sack the agency, please: my friend's dog Baxter could surely do a better job.




I’ll be honest: I was used to my fanclub membership offering a lot more, and yes, I miss it. Maybe I’m a spoilt brat, maybe I am resisting change. Maybe I should accept that bands obey to the rule of diminishing returns, in the same way as when you go and buy groceries, you notice that the same product you used to buy now contains less of the product, but for the same price, or higher. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations and maybe it's perfectly reasonable to put one less bagel in the pack, and charge me the same money.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 6/10


Gripe #3: Everything Else

I’ve been a music fan since I can remember and before getting into Hanson, I went to concerts, listened to the records at home, bought music magazines, and occasionally, in later years, chatted with fans on bands' forums. I ‘met’ one or two of my favourite artists once or twice and was thrilled when I got their autographs. These days, with albums barely selling and streaming venues paying paltry amounts, Hanson and many other bands and artists offering ‘fan experiences’. Cue a bigger and bigger Hanson Day and BTTI. Also cue the increasingly intrusive element of selfie-hunting taking over said events.

Don’t get me wrong - I love BTTI (well, this one just gone, 2018, not so much). I went to Hanson Day twice and loved Tulsa, the events and the shows. But that kind of stuff should be an extra, a way for the artists to replenish their coffers so that they can keep doing what they really want do: make music.

The Rock Boat is one of many 'fan experience' events. Just don't bring up Hanson with them.

Lately, however, the whole ‘fan experience’ thing seems to be the priority for Hanson; the end, not the means. And I can’t help feeling that the band are pandering to those fans who are only in it for the ‘experience’ - the selfies, the ability to boast on social media about ‘hanging out’ with their teenage heartthrob Taylor Hanson. The music is just an after thought. And those of us who question it, who dare to ask when a new album will come, are told to stop complaining, because “Hanson do so much for us”. Well, yes, to be fair, Hanson do a lot for them, agreeing to selfie after selfie, putting on more events at Hanson Day that have nothing to do with music but which offer an opportunity for fans to get close to the guys. Personally, I’d give all of these admittedly fun events up, if that meant I saw an effort on Hanson’s part to hunker down in their bunker and write some new music.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10

So What Happens Now?

One of the reasons why it’s so difficult for disillusioned members to leave a religious cult, is that leaving your beliefs behind is like admitting that you’ve been wrong; that you’ve been duped by a charismatic leader for whom you would have jumped off the nearest cliff. Yes, I know Hanson are not a religious cult but there are staggering similarities between fan behaviour and cult-thinking.

When Eddie Tried to Quit Mayerism, It Didn't Go So Well 

Take the lack of objectivity among our fan base: it’s as if fans are sticking their fingers in their ears and going LALALA, not wanting to hear anything negative. Because, of course, if you see the old man behind the curtain, and realise that he’s not a wizard, you’ll be sad and disappointed. And like with a cult,  leaving the fanbase will often mean leaving your support system behind; your friends; your social circle. Your day-to-day chats by the virtual watercooler, discussing the band, the fans, planning outfits for the next event, figuring out how much weight you need to lose and what cosmetic treatment you need to invest in for the next picture with the band.

But whatever a fan/cult member’s inner fears may be, shutting down debate because you’re unable to accept that there might be a problem is only going to push discussions underground - in private chats, secret groups and those remaining few social networks that still allow a degree of anonymity. Shutting people down and tell them to ‘stop complaining’ and - worse - to ‘be grateful’ is a surefire way to turn off those fans who still love the band but refuse to turn into unquestioning fanbots who live under the misplaced belief that they should show gratitude to three rockstars for allowing them to keep doing what is, without a question, the coolest job in the world - and not the other way around.



As for me? Like Edith Piaf sang, je ne regrette rien. I fell in love with this band because their music spoke to me, moved me, uplifted me. Back then in 2012 I had no way of knowing that, through Hanson, my life would change in more ways that I could ever imagine. I will never walk away from music that has meant so much to me, but how much longer can I stick around for, chasing after a mirage that keeps dissolving as I get closer?

However - and some of you will be surprised to learn this - I am deep down an eternal optimist. I want to believe that Hanson can still be ‘that special band’ for me; that they can still make a kickass album that I’ll play to death for months on end. I want to believe they still care about making music more than just being a ‘brand’ that flogs us merch in seasonal ‘Collections' like a chain store in a shopping mall.

I'm not ready to turn my back on this band - yet. But I know I’m not alone in thinking that unless Hanson show us that new music is still a priority for them, there will come a time when I’ll completely lose interest. And by then it will be easier to just say “Hanson, it’s not you, it’s me”. Maybe we can still work it out.