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TBTS Reviews: Hanson, Shout it Out

June 24, 2010

Hanson’s latest album, Shout it Out, is filled with outstanding singing and musicianship, catchy, memorable, instantly familiar melodies, and impeccable pop craftsmanship. It sounds wonderfully lived-in, comfortable, and organic, and it should prompt enjoyment and command respect from fans of a wide, multi-generational spectrum of pop music purveyors—everyone from Hall & Oates, Bruce Hornsby, and Elton John to David Gray, Fountains of Wayne, and the New Pornographers.

It's OK to like this album. I promise.

If those fans’ minds aren’t already made up about Hanson.

But that’s a big “If.”

It’s pretty simple, though regrettable. Zac, Taylor, and Isaac Hanson are likely to wear a giant, “MMMBop”-shaped albatross around their necks the rest of their lives. Jeez, when that song came out, I couldn’t stand those kids, and I grew to dislike what I perceived to be their influence on the mainstream music scene even more. Basically, I believed at the time that Hanson’s success opened the door for a fairly widespread infantilization of pop music. Prior to the runaway success of Hanson’s major-label debut album Middle of Nowhere, it had been a long time since anybody gave enough a crap about what a 12-year-old pop singer had to say about love to make such an act a hit. But after Hanson? We had a veritable tidal wave of precocious crooners screeching on and on about love and incipient sexuality (in what could be seen as increasingly creepy, prematurely advanced ways). And, as you already know unless you’ve been lucky enough to remain unaware of the growing legions of Team Bieber zealots, we still haven’t seen the ebb of lovelorn middle-schoolers capable of dominating the pop charts.

But now, with the benefit of more than a decade of hindsight, it’s easy to discern at least one major qualitative difference between the brothers Hanson and the droves of their commercial tween-pop successors. From the beginning, Hanson was a pop BAND, not mere pop SINGERS, and as such, it was always more about the songs with them than about the glitz and the dance moves. Yes, they were cute, and that’s a big part of the reason they got huge, but it sure as hell wasn’t the only reason. They knew their way around an authentic hook even then (have you ever tried to stop singing “MMMBop” to yourself once you’ve started?), and their melodic sensibility has grown and coalesced into something absolutely mighty during their more than 15 years of writing, playing, and recording as a unit. Shout it Out is the indisputable evidence of said maturation.

It’s not really important to run down the individual features of what makes every song on Shout it Out a killer. It’s just plain dumb to direct a bunch of critic-ese at guitar/horns (oh, those horns!)/piano pop music as fun, energetic, joyous, soulful, and flawlessly executed as this. I’ll just entreat you to listen to Shout it Out once. Put notions of “cred” aside if you can. Pretend you’re listening to a new, unheard-of band if you need to do so.

If you do, I think you might hear what I hear, which is three talented men playing well and singing their hearts out, all in service of sincere, economical, well-constructed pop songs. If you can’t bring yourself to give the 2010 version of Hanson an open-minded listen, you might miss something you’d otherwise find a real treat.

  1. Mark M permalink
    June 25, 2010 12:06 am

    I gotta say, this has to be about the least-expected thing I’ve seen here.

    I keep looking for the smirk that gives away the put-on, and I can’t spot it.

    Morbid curiosity is truly a force more powerful than gravity. I’m going to have to see what you’re talking about.

  2. Mark M permalink
    June 25, 2010 12:29 pm

    Well, I can’t say I would’ve expected a dark, moody, introspective album from Hanson.

    I have made the joke that they would one day do just that and rename themselves Marilyn Hanson, though.

  3. T. Stump permalink
    June 25, 2010 7:38 pm

    …Thus answering the question, “Can we divorce the music from the context?”

    I remember conversing with you and Paul about what would happen if the Backstreet Boys tossed aside their svengali and said, “Hey, we are better than this!”, and dropped a 2000-version of Rubber Soul. For reasons that deserve greater exploration, there are some creative canyons that are escapable, and others that are not.

    Why can Justin Timberlake emerge as a critically-acclaimed dance-music performer (which makes sense within his career arc), but Hanson will never see similar critical love for pursuing a power-pop ethic (which makes sense in their career arc)?

    and they say the US loves a comeback…

  4. June 26, 2010 1:54 am

    This is good blog message, I will keep this in mind. If you add more video and pictures because it helps understanding :)

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