Hanson’s definitely gotten a bad rap in the world of pop music. They first were stereotyped endlessly after the success of “MMMbop,” as their record label capitalized on the single’s success by overcrowding the marketplace with their pre-teen faces. Then they get their contract merged with Island/Def Jam after the massive record industry shakeups of that era, forcing the Hanson brothers to attempt to grow up musically while being told constantly by clueless label execs that if they couldn’t write “MMMbop II” they were failing to write quality songs. That their sophomore album barely went Gold was used as evidence to moron executives that they had little more to offer the music world, despite already being seasoned songwriters capable of co-writing with the likes of Carole King.
The band handled this by staging a three-man rebellion against the powers that be, producing a documentary, Strong Enough To Break, that may be the most incisive look at late-’90s record company idiocy ever put to celluloid. They won back the rights to the third album which had been blackballed by the label, then created their own label, 3CG, so they’d never have to compromise artistically again.
Unfortunately, though their subsequent records, including Underneath in 2004 and The Walk in 2007, continued to showcase a burgeoning love of retro pop from the ’70s and ’80s merged with youthful bluesy hooks and a strong sense of songcraft, few people ever heard the music. All of which is a shame because finally on this year’s Shout It Out, they’ve managed to craft the perfect combination of the energy of their first album with the artistic progression of their latter releases. The result is the most enjoyable record of their career that, still, will likely will go equally unheard by the masses.
Maybe it’s that a good horn chart can add heft to any music, but the fact that at least seven of Shout It Out’s dozen tracks feature horns directed by Jerry Hey (Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire) certainly boosts the energy level of these songs by about half. Better than that, the trio finally has the hooks behind them to show that their music exists in a pop plane out of the current context, aimed more at replicating the classic ’80s pop sounds of Billy Joel and Steve Winwood than imitating either their ’90s era selves or anyone from today’s pop charts.
That’s not going to sell them many records, but it’s going to maintain the fans they’ve got. And with the right marketing, perhaps this could be the album that breaks Hanson finally to a segment of today’s youth audience — one that prizes songwriting chops and good meaty hooks over the kind of pop-schlock pablum currently being forced on us by corporate radio.
And the songs, my friends, are some of their strongest. “Waiting For This” features a boisterous horn line, strong team vocals and an invigorating chorus which almost demands listeners get out of their seats and groove. Meanwhile, “Kiss Me When You Come Home” is perfectly single-ready for adult contemporary, with a bluesy piano-and-drums hook that leads into an uber-catchy chorus that has “sing along!” written all over it. “Use Me Up” is the strongest ballad the boys have written since This Time Around’s “A Song To Sing,” a strong lyrical effort which will surprise even some long-time Hanson fans with its brutally confessional tone. It also features beautiful team harmonies that rival anything they’ve put into a ballad before.
All this adds up to a strong pop effort from a band no longer interested in achieving mainstream success over artistic sensibilities. On their eighth studio album they’ve finally proven that they can live up to the high bar they set for themselves when they left Island/Def Jam rather than be forced by a major label to compromise their integrity as a band. The material on Shout It Out is breezy and fun while also managing to be a solid artistic step forward for a band I fully expect will be around for a long while, even if no one ever hears another top 40 hit from one of their records. That “MMMbop” eventually led to Hanson becoming pop journeymen is what makes their music all the more rewarding, easily worth a listen for anyone who claims to love pop music.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.