Saturday, 6 August 2016

Two Months Later, It's Still Loud - a review of Hanson's 2016 Members EP

Très chic

Okay, I wasn’t too keen on this song when I first listened to it in my hotel room in Tulsa. It sounded a bit weak, and another example of Taylor trying to hit high notes when a lower note would serve the song better. The lyrics didn’t fill me with enthusiasm, either:

Damn good looking/Oh, you make me say/Ooh, la la la

It gets worse:

And your lips are red to tease/And your hair is drawn back tight/But you play it off with ease/While you leave me paralyzed

Those are typical Taylor lyrics: he seems to have a penchant for fictional (we assume) femme fatales who bossy him around at the snap of their perfectly manicured fingers while he makes sex noises and reduces the fan base to jelly in the process. There are several such songs in the Hanson catalogue: ‘Give a Little’, ‘Cut Right Through Me’, ‘Show me the Way’ - and they tend not to be my favourite as I feel that, lyrically speaking, Taylor can do a lot better than that.

Things took a turn for the worse when I visited the I <3 Hanson store and saw the ‘French’ themed merch sporting the lyrics ‘Oh La La La’, complete with Eiffel Tower. Now call me a pedant (please do) but the French interjection is ‘Oh là là’ - two là làs, and accented ones too. If you’re going to have a French reference, at least make sure it’s correct. N’est-ce pas?

And then.

Then something happened. I heard the song live, and somehow, under the Hanson Spell, the silly lyrics didn’t seem so bad. Back in the UK, I put the EP on my iPod and found myself not skipping the song. Fast forward a couple of months and I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘Oh La La La’, despite its botched attempt at French and vapid lyrics is actually a damn good pop song: it’s catchy as hell and makes you want to stand up on your feet and dance around the house as you vacuum the floor. Yes it’s candy floss, but it’s damn fine candy floss nonetheless.

'Stop Me in My Tracks' starts with one of those roaring guitar riffs that you thought you’d last heard back in the 80s. What on earth….? Is this ‘Born to Run’? ‘Summer of ‘69’? Or, on second thoughts, are Hanson doing Matt Wertz doing the ‘80s? The idea is too post-modern for words.
So, whatever. Because here’s the thing: I love this song. It begs to be listened to whilst driving, ideally on a US freeway - although for those of us here in Europe, a more mundane, slow moving, congested motorway will have to do.

Anyway, back to the song, I have to admit that my opinion has been influenced by the review of a fellow fan, Michelle.

In her review, Michelle gives an alternative reading of the lyrics: instead of the predictable song about a girl, she argues that the song is Hanson’s love letter to their fans:

Every time I'm feeling dead inside
You're the one that brings me back

and then:

I don't wanna wake up dead inside
You're the one that makes me
You're the one that makes me feel alive

Or how about this:

You're the one that makes me feel alive
You're the one that makes me
You're the one that stops my heart

Since reading this interpretation of the song, I can’t see it in any other way. Can you?

He's got it (yeah baby he's got it) [photo by HNET]

I’ve found that Taylor’s vocals have been hit-and-miss in the past few years, and have often wondered why he insists in singing in such a high register when his voice sounds a lot richer when he takes it down a notch or two (last year’s collaboration with the Blues Traveler being a case in point).

And then came ‘No Rest for the Weary’, followed by a sigh of relief from me. This is exactly the kind of song that showcases Taylor’s voice at its very best: rich, soulful, full of emotion. It’s the kind of song that you want to play to your infidel friends to show them that the little boy who sang ‘Mmmbop’ grew up and got soul.

Lyrics wise, this is one of Hanson’s most inspired songs in a long time - at least since last year’s 'Grace Unknown'.

There’s evocative, effective words juxtaposition - “I'm a rich blasphemer/And a poor man's saint”; there’s a clever use of referencing to someone who may or may not be Jesus, without being too prescriptive: “Cause I take my cue/From a condemned man /So I break their rules /Whenever I can”

As others have argued, the ‘condemned man’ could equally be someone like Martin Luther King - this is the beauty of Hanson’s lyrics: even if the band has never made a mystery about their Christian background, their songs are always open to interpretation. These guys are too smart to paint themselves into the lyrical corner of Christian rock.

Will someone, for the love of God, give this man something loud?

As an ‘Isaac girl’ you’d expect this to be my favourite song of the EP but sadly this year Taylor stole the first and second spots with two of his leads. I blame the lyrics, which tread perilously close to the line between ‘interesting’ and ‘cliché’. Example:

“I go down to the river of life”. I’m told the river is a biblical reference but Bible or not, the river of life sounds a bit trite for me as a metaphor.

In the corner is a lady in black
For British fans, how can this line not evoke one image and one image only, i.e. the Scottish Widows advert?

Every pint is a picture of home

Again as U.K. fan I have problems with this line: for me, nothing is more mundane than the word ‘pint’. “Anyone fancy a pint?” with all its depressing connotations of after-work drinks is a phrase so ingrained in British popular culture that I find it very hard to swallow it in the context of an emotionally and spiritually charged song such as ‘Something Loud’.

Mercifully, an opportunity for redemption comes in the form of the chorus, which has clearly been written with crowd-singalong in mind:

Give me something stronger (crowd: STRONGER!)
Pour some holy water (WATER!)
Baptize me in fire (you got it!)
Bring me something loud, loud, LOUD! (fist in the air X 3 now!)

With that, despite an overall not entirely successful string of metaphors and ill-fitting brewery-related imagery, Mr Isaac Hanson won me over: yes, I am weak, and I find it hard to resist his vocals when he belts a song out like he does with 'Something Loud'. Also, as one of the lucky people who got to hear the song live in Tulsa, I can attest to the superiority of the song’s live version thanks to the absence of that annoying ingredient of so many Hanson songs: the horns.

Hanson had better play this at BTTI next year, or else.

Even Ulysses couldn't resist a siren's call
When I heard clips of this from 'The Making of Loud' streams, I immediately thought that it sounded a lot like 'Panic in the Streets'. Friends who know about music tell me that it’s because of the synthesiser they used in both songs. Whatever the reason, 'Sirens Call' has a very familiar sound, echoing not only 'Panic' but also last year’s EP track 'What Are We Fighting For' - that kind of mid-tempo, melancholy-laden Zac lead which I am rather indifferent to.

Lyrics-wise, it’s sophisticated enough to talk about sirens as mythological creatures rather than Disney characters. For me, it’s all a little too predictable and reminds me of 'What Are We Fighting For' - one of those songs which have an almost epic theme, asking deep and meaningful questions and saying all the right things like “who’s going to carry the flag” and “who's gonna fight the tide” to then fizzle out into nothing. It’s a song which should deliver a lot more but which ultimately feels hollow.

On the plus side though, I absolutely love the drums in 'Siren Call', which makes me wonder if it’s Taylor actually drumming here or if the clips they posted of him are just for show? Whatever the answer, the relentless drum beat really stands out, and steals the show from the vocals, rescuing the song for me and saving it from the dreaded skip button.

My Final Verdict

Play it Loud

I still regret my overly generous review of last year’s Inside the Box EP, which I would now call a disappointment, with the exception of course of 'Grace Unknown'. I wonder if the band realised that the majority of fans also found 'Inside the Box' below par, because they certainly raised the bar with 'Loud', which I would call a return to form - certainly the best since 'Sound of Light' (which for me, however, remains unrivalled in its position as Hanson’s Best EP of all time).

There’s plenty of energy in this EP to reassure all fans that this band still has it: passion, energy and that certain je ne sais quoi which can only be translated as “Hanson Magic”. In years of drought the pull is weakened by songs that don’t quite manage to steal your heart the way you think they should. Then, when you are about to lose faith, they hit you with something 'Loud'. You hear the silent call from far beyond, and off you go, bewitched, spell-bound, ready to board the next flight to Tulsa, because those pesky brothers have pulled it off once more.
Oh dear. Here we go round again.

Hanson's 2016 EP "Loud" is available to all fanclub members. Sign up here.


  1. Insightful , honest and brilliantly executed. I would like to add that I personally am a sucker for power pop which is probably why I adore SMIMT so much .Thanks for pointing out the French reference even though I took French in college I am pretty rusty and tend to over look little details like that .

    1. I think 'Power Pop' is the best definition of songs like SMIMT - and even 'Oh La La La'. It's pop at its very best, and I got suckered in too ;)

  2. they were taking the French reference and using the lyrics to make cheesy merch. I mean, some people were into it. not me, but it takes all kinds. I quit listening to the ep after 2 weeks so it isn't that great imo. my favorite ep has always been ftbp but im sure it has a lot to do with being the first moe I attended as well. its a great thing that different people can like different songs and aspects of the band, its what makes them great. I have high hopes for play :)

    1. I love FTBP. I wasn't even a fan back then so I got to know it retrospectively, but it's up there with NSFB and SOL. I guess for me NSFB has an emotional attachment as that's the first Hanson CD I ever owned, as I joined the fan club just a it was coming out.

      I think Play will be awesome :)

  3. Overall, I agree with you that Loud is a huge improvement over Inside the Box.

    I love CRTM and GAL but Ooh La La La doesn't do it for me. I stand by my previous statement that Taylor *trying* to be "sexy" (growl-y vocal style, "damn good looking") has the opposite effect on me. Less is more, sugarplum.

    I love the idea of SMIMT being fan-inspired! Never thought of it that way.

    No Rest for the Weary = favorite. Hands down. A+ vocals here, T. Catchy, but not mind-numbingly so, and the build at the end is great.

    Something Loud - I agree that this one is made for live performances. Isaac is clearly in love with that guitar riff. When I listen closely to the lyrics they do feel a little hollow. The "river of life" sends my brain to Billy Joel's River of Dreams, and I'm sure it's not a knockoff but that makes it feel a little like one. Totally solid song, though.

    Siren Call - I don't skip it, but I don't listen to it unless I'm playing the EP straight through (vs. the middle 3 tracks which I'll put on by themselves, listen to commuting or running, etc.)

    In conclusion, I like the EP a lot, but it's not a contender for best-ever in my book (SOL and FTBP are pretty untouchable in that category).

    The one challenge I'd issue the band going forward is to cut down on the number of cliches in their lyrics. They are RAMPANT. Sometimes it works--No Rest for the Weary is a string of familiar expressions and platitudes. But I want to see them step up their songwriting game and use their words in combinations we haven't all heard before. (I'm sure since Hanson take me very seriously, their next release will reflect this criticism ;) ;)

    Great review, Paola!!

  4. For me, Oh La La La was borderline at first. It's not quite 'cat anus' singing (as previously discussed) like some lines in 'Heartbreaker'. I think the fact that you can hear Zac and Isaac in the 'La La La' helps a lot (they don't cat anus-sing).

    Good point about River of Dreams. I wonder if it's a case of a sub-conscious homage. They're such fans of Billy Joel that it's probably something they wouldn't even think about. Either way, it's cliched, and as you say, they could do with really cut down on cliches overall. We know they can - look at songs like 'Fire on the Mountain', 'The Walk', dare I say 'World's on Fire'. This EP is not quite fridge magnet poetry material but hardly innovative either (lyrics-wise). Overall it's not SOL or FTBP but it's definitely a YAY rather than a NAY.

    Thank you for reading! (and commenting)

  5. YES. The Walk album is some of their most lyrically inspired stuff for sure. And WoF. Always WoF <3

    Even a song like Penny and Me isn't super deep, but the words are fresh: "Cigars in the summertime" "got my bean in my coffee cup," "making it by in the pink moonlight" all make your brain go "ooh what's this? What does that look like?" Whereas phrases like "you really get my motor running" and "I've paid my dues/I've done my time" have all been said before. Like, many many times.

    1. Penny and Me works - it's really made by that rapid-fire of imagery which, as you said, make you think for a few seconds.
      I think 'Stop me in my Tracks' is meant to be rough...some kind of derivative work 'inspired' (*cough* ripped off) from The Great ("Just wrap your legs 'round these velvet rims/And strap your hands 'cross my engines" - Springsteen).

      At least that's what I want to believe (oh, I want to believe....)

      Stop Me In My Tracks is most definitely *not* sophisticated, but it works on that level of 'fist in the air, OH-OH, fist in the air, OH-OH' kinda way.

    2. Springsteen rip-offs are super en vogue these days. Ryan Adams and Butch Walker did that recently too. So at least they're on-trend ;)