Music Review: Against The World

This blog post was updated each month as new songs were released. The last update was on Saturday, November 6, 2022.

Annalie

I got to hear “Annalie” live during the Wintry Mix tour in 2019. I’m not sure if it’s the first time this has happened, but it was the first time I ever saw a song performed acoustically but also with the full 5-piece band. It’s a catchy song and I knew right away that I liked it. However, I liked it even better after Back To The Island when Zac explained that the song isn’t about a girl, but rather about the meaning behind the name Annalie. He did not go on to explain further at the time, but I did a Google, and the name means “God’s grace”. Suddenly the song shifts from missing a girl and wanting to travel with her, to a man feeling like he has somehow fallen out of God’s graces. He’s chasing after hope, and longing for his regrets to be washed away. While I don’t believe anyone can actually lose God’s grace (after all, what is grace if not undeserved?), I can relate to the feeling of searching for it. This just makes me wonder how many other Hanson songs have a deeper meaning than we’ve ever realized.

Favorite Lyric: “I don’t really care where we stop, as long as I get to go.”

Project Ranking: 6th Place

Don’t Ever Change

I heard “Don’t Ever Change” on the Wintry Mix tour as well. I vividly remember thinking “this song sounds fun, but I have no idea what Taylor is saying.” However, that was literally all I could remember about it. To be honest, my first impression of the recorded version was “wow… that’s.. a lot.” In the song’s defense, I probably should not have listened to it immediately upon waking up at 5am. I’ll have to remember that for the next release. I listened to it a few other times that day, and my next impression was that it sounded too much like a Tinted Windows song, of which I’m not that big a fan. However, it has since grown on me. It’s not a song I’ll want in heavy rotation, but when the right mood strikes, it’s a great summer power pop love anthem. I’m looking forward to hearing it live again now that I know the lyrics. This is true of a lot of Hanson songs, but my favorite part is the way the bridge breaks down. Which leads me to…

Favorite Lyric: “You’re my first day’s thought and my last night’s prayer.”

Project Ranking: 4th Place

Only Love

When I heard the preview for this song, I immediately became excited for its release. It’s rare these days to get an Isaac lead that isn’t a ballad, and I got the impression that this would be the first in a long while. On my first listen, in the beginning I thought maybe I was wrong; it starts out sounding like a lot of other Isaac songs. But then… oh, but then! It picks up and turns from ballad to gospel rock with an incredible acapella ending. I was expecting goodness, but we were blessed with greatness! And from there, as I dug deeper into the lyrics, it somehow became even better and dare I say it’s a new all-time favorite? It might be too soon to settle on that for certain, but it’s the most excited I’ve been about a new song in quite some time (and that’s not to say I haven’t been excited about others). There is so much more I want to say about this song, so I made a separate post to do so. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my….

Favorite Lyric: “But broken won’t define you, ’cause love can always find you.”

Project Ranking: 2nd Place

Against The World

I went to three shows on the Wintry Mix Tour, but they skipped the song “Against The World” at all the shows I went to, so I wasn’t sure what to expect for how the song would sound. One thing I love about Hanson is that they have a way of writing songs in a variety of styles and genres. If someone who only knows “MMMBop” (or doesn’t know Hanson at all) asks me what they sound like, I never know quite how to answer; sometimes they sound like rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes they sound like Queen, sometimes it’s singer-songwriter, sometimes it’s almost country. But it’s always Hanson. With that said, my first impression listen of “Against The World”, the first thought I had was “this! this is what Hanson sounds like!” If any song can summarize the quintessential Hanson sound, it’s this. Lyrically, to me it feels like the culmination of “This Time Around” meets “Strong Enough To Break” (including a direct nod to the latter). The protagonist from “This Time Around” is in the middle of war, “Strong Enough To Break” nearly kills him, but now he’s made it through and he’s ready to move forward “Against The World”. He’s had hard times, but they’re his times now.

Favorite Lyric: “There’s equal scars from victory and failure.”

Project Ranking: 1st Place

Stronger

I attended both of the September ATW+ shows in Tulsa, and this time I decided to not listen to that month’s new song, “Stronger”, until after the first show. If you’ve already read my show blog, you’ll know that hearing it live gave me chills, even though I couldn’t quite make out the lyrics. So when I got back to my hotel room that night, I of course had to listen to it on repeat while reading the lyrics on Hanson.net, and it did not disappoint. I think we’ve all been in a place of feeling broken and defeated, knowing we need to leave the past behind, but not quite sure how to move forward. And this song is such a beautiful depiction of that feeling. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but the layered harmonies in the chorus remind me that we are only stronger together – we can’t fight our battles alone.

Favorite Lyric: “Don’t know what’s ahead, only what I’ve left.”

Project Ranking: 3rd Place

One

I remember hearing “One” on the Wintry Mix tour, and really loving it as a Zac solo. I was surprised to hear how it has evolved since then. To be honest, I think I prefer the solo version. I really love the lyrics of this song, and all I’ll say is… if I didn’t know better, I would think it was written in 2020. However, we all know it wasn’t, and it’s just a reminder to me of the powerful way music can evolve and take on new meanings, and that’s the beauty of all art. I’m a Enneagram nerd, and as a 9, I do a really great job of avoiding conflict. To me, this song is a good reminder of how avoiding conflict doesn’t actually help anything, and honestly, usually just makes things worse.

Favorite Lyric: “Tear down these walls, they’re a danger to our hearts, monuments to isolation that deny us what we’ve lost.”

Project Ranking: 5th Place

Fearless

No convincing will ever get me to believe that this song wasn’t originally written for String Theory. Not only is there an obvious orchestra section, but the lyrics fit perfectly in with the String Theory story of fighting against obstacles to achieve what you’ve set out to accomplish. I love the overall sound of “Fearless”, and I wouldn’t hate it if they keep playing around with this kind of sound. But to be honest this song mostly falls flat to me. For starters, it’s nothing we haven’t heard them sing about before (but in previously better ways), it feels like it’s missing a bridge and final verse (which further convinces me it was for ST – those songs were all cut brief), and as such the song abruptly ends just as it’s building up, much like the release of this whole project… more on that below.

Favorite Lyric: “You are what you let yourself be told.”

Project Ranking: 7th Place

The Project At Large

When Hanson first announced that Against The World would be seven songs released one at a time, I, like many fans, was disappointed. After a year of building up hype for a new album, seven songs felt like not enough (especially since it’s been more than that many years since the last proper non-Christmas album release), and the one song at a time method felt like we were being robbed of the whole new album experience we’ve been longing for. However, I’m not the artist, and I always try to default on trusting the artist with their process, and that there’s a reason they’re doing what they’re doing. So, I tried to set my feelings aside and take it at face value.

As I alluded to in my review of “Fearless”, I feel like this whole thing stopped short just as it was building up, and I meant that in two ways. I get that the one song at a time is common practice these days, and that the music industry is changing rapidly and artists need to do what they can to keep up. At the beginning of the Against The World release, it was fun to have a new song to look forward to every month, but by the time November rolled around, I was over it. And, to be honest, it feels to me like Hanson was over it, too, especially as they have been simultaneously posting vague updates from the studio where they are already working on some mysterious new project for next year (which, btw, I’m very intrigued by).

Another problem I have with this release style is that I was trying to rank the songs in order of favorite to least favorite, I couldn’t decide if I actually liked “One” better than “Annalie”, or if I’m just over “Annalie” because it’s been out since May, while “One” just came out a month ago. I know not every fan is out there trying to rank the songs, but part of Hanson’s defense with this release is that with a typical album release, fans tend to skip or gloss over certain songs, and this way each song had its time to shine. And I totally see where they’re coming from with that, but now that they’re all out, I can confidently say I still spent less time focusing on the weakest links.

In Hanson’s defense, I think some of this is probably Covid’s fault. The one song at a time release probably would have felt very different if a) they were actively on tour promoting these songs, rather than moving on to the next project before this one is officially released and b) if they had been able to release it all in 2020 like they originally planned and hadn’t been sitting on it for a year – while ATW is new to us, it’s now 2+ years old to Hanson. I don’t blame them for having moved on to the next one. But normally, album release weekend feels like the beginning of a new era. To me, this weekend feels like the end of one.

The second way I feel like Against The World stops short just as it’s building up is in the number of tracks on the project. Each song seems to build on the one that came before (except I’m still not sure how “Annalie” fits in with the rest), but then it ends. It feels like there should be at least 2-3 more songs to finish it out and bring us back down off the cliffhanger “Fearless” leaves us on. And I know according to album sales statistics, seven songs technically does count as a full album, I personally refuse to call ATW anything other than just a project.

I feel like I’m being overly negative here over a bunch of songs that I actually do like, so please let me end on this note: these are all good songs. Four of these tracks are high quality releases that are some of the best work I think Hanson has done in quite some time. The other three, to me, only feel not so great in comparison to those four. Had the three “weaker” songs been released on Crossroads instead, that would have been one of my favorite EPs. (But I can certainly see now why none of those songs made it onto Against The World.)

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