We may only a week in from the release date of Hanson’s newest album, Red Green Blue, but yet somehow I feel like I’ve been agonizing over how to write my review for months. I lost my bragging rights and finally caught Covid, which means I spent the whole release weekend in isolation; I had nothing better to do than pour over the lyrics of these songs ad nauseam. By mid-Saturday night I already had a whole theory going about half of the songs. I’m fully convinced that some songs are in response to other songs, (especially since I recall Taylor saying Red was recorded last) and because of that, nothing below will be in track list order.
I also need to throw in a disclaimer: there is a lot of speculation involved and I apologize in advance to Hanson (especially Zac) as I play armchair psychologist. I actually debated not saying the things I’m about to say because of this. But then I remembered that’s the point of music and art; the artist pours their heart and soul into something and then puts it out in the world for people to interpret for themselves. And that’s what I’m doing here. For all I know, none of these songs are biographical. After all, we already know Hanson can write great songs that have nothing to do with their real lives. (Exhibit A: “White Collar Crime”. I hope.)
Now let’s dive in.
Hands down, “Rambling Heart” is my favorite song on all of RGB. It’s no secret that I love to travel, and this song is an anthem for anyone with wanderlust. There are also a couple lines that I believe are nods to one of my favorite brands of travel, going from concert to concert. “And we’re all here, but nobody’s home” can be an easy reference to a venue full of people who literally do not live there and also likely traveled to get there, including the band. “The world is at our feet” to me both represents the travel itself and also the crowd standing at the feet of the performer.
Favorite Lyric: “Every note is my home sweet home”
“Semi Hollow” has a fun groove (one that is, shall we say, “slow and low”) that has been stuck in my head more than once already. The brass adds a great rhythm which has me wishing that Hanson would just add a permanent 6th band member at this point. I can’t pin point what it is about it, but this song feels to me like “Come Over” and “Man On Top” had a semi hollow baby.
Favorite Lyric: “You’re more than air but you sure ain’t solid
Green opens with a cover from Other Brother™ Mac (of Joshua and The Holy Rollers)’s song, “Greener Pastures”. I had previously listened to the JTHR version, but I do like Isaac’s better. This is such a great style for Isaac’s voice. I’m always excited to hear him branch out from his typical ballads.
Favorite Lyric: “It’s all the same, we’re all searching for the truth”
Write You A Song
“Write You A Song” was the first single for Green, and again I was excited to hear something more upbeat from Isaac. This is such a cute song written for his daughter, and it’s catchy enough that it is fact “something sweet that [I] can hum along to”. I was surprised to hear he had written this with Paul McDonald, because it sounds so much more like Stephen Kellogg to me. I know he did write with SK around the same time, and now I’m curious what will come from that, either for Hanson’s or Stephen’s catalogue (or even if we ever get to find out).
Favorite Lyric: “Dancin’ round, you were always cutting loose”
Cold As Ice
Just… wow. This is such a fun song! Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only other song we’ve ever heard from Hanson with quite this much funk (besides maybe some covers) is whatever jam session song they were playing during the credits on The Road To Albertane. (Also you’re welcome for that flashback.) It’s hard to believe this started as a ballad. The callbacks to Tay and David invoke some “Run Rudolph Run” feels (“Tay, kick one for Christmas, baby!”) At the Hanson Day show they used this song to introduce Andrew and Dimitrius and I hope they keep that up for tour. What a gem of a jam!
Favorite Lyric: “She pawns my watches to buy me time”
Zac loses about 500 points for naming a song the same as an already existing Hanson song. That aside, this version of “Wake Up” reminds me of “Reading Your Mind” from In Real Life. This song is Exhibit B in my disclaimer that we know Hanson is capable of writing songs that are not biographical. “Wake Up” seems to be a love song to someone the protagonist has not yet met (“Every night I’m waiting just to learn your name”). As a 39-year old single woman? Relatable. From a man who has been married for 16 years? I’m not so sure. That said, there is a part of me that wonders if this song is not actually about a hypothetical love interest, but I’ll get to that later.
Favorite Lyric: “Would it change a thing to learn that you’re not real?”
Don’t Let Me Down
The first single from Blue, “Don’t Let Me Down” is probably the closest to what we’re used to hearing from Hanson. Zac has said that he wrote this to himself as he faced the pressure of writing Blue without the support from his brothers that he’s used to. This might be a stretch, but I can’t help but think it ties together stories from two older Hanson songs: “Broken Angel” and “The Walk”. In “Broken Angel”, we hear Zac pining to be something that the world says he’s not ready for, he’s too small to be the high flyer. Fast forward to “The Walk” and despite the odds, he’s up in the sky ready to take his chances. Now here we are with the world watching, and “Don’t Let Me Down” is what he’s singing to himself as he walks out on the tightrope. Everything he has been through has led him to now.
Favorite Lyric: “It’s not a question of whether you’re ready, only of what you’ll allow”
“Bad” has grown on me significantly since my first listen. At the listening party, I really only noticed the chorus. But once I did a deep dive on the lyrics? Oh man… I had a hard time narrowing down a favorite so I’m just going to go through some of these one by one.
“Moth to the flame, march to the drum.” This makes me think of the keyboard warrior world we live in, and I have to admit that I sometimes fall victim as well. We see something political that lights a fire we feel we have to run to, ready to march. I do think there is good that can come from political debates, and it’s usually better than staying silent, but we do still need to be careful with the words we choose.
“What you believe is what you become.” I think we all tend to wrap our identity up in the things we believe about the world. This lyric is gold.
“We all retreat to our sides and give into our lies, ’cause it’s easier than seeing my reasons in what you believe.” What a powerful statement about conflict, especially when the conflict is based on the stories we write in our heads about others without knowing what they’re really thinking and feeling. 🙋🏻♀️ Guilty
“The tightrope is frayed and it’s wearing me thin.” Hey remember my reference to “The Walk” above?
Favorite Lyric: “No one can change the worth of a life”
If you’re involved in the Hanson fandom enough to be reading a fan’s blog, it’s probably no secret to you that there has been conflict within the band for at least a few years now. In fact, they even mentioned during the Hanson Day HTP Live. And I believe “Truth” is Taylor’s response to a lot of what has been happening. He even admits that he’s had one foot out the door. Where “Bad” talks about writing false narratives, Taylor is asking us to humble ourselves and realize that we don’t know the whole truth to the story. And if we can set our pride aside and have an actual conversation about our conflicts, it will expose the truth.
Favorite Lyric: “So don’t hold on to bitter, it’ll come home to roost”
No Matter The Reason
Much like I think “Truth” is Taylor’s response to the conflict in “Bad”, I think “No Matter The Reason” is Isaac’s response. The lyrics speak to both parties having said hurtful things, and we see Isaac wrestling with the pain he has caused as well as the pain he has felt. In the end, he recognizes that the love they share is strong enough to heal the pain, and so he declares that he won’t be leaving.
Favorite Lyric: “God has made no better good, than you for me”
World Goes Round
“World Goes Round” is another track that sounds like classic Hanson, and is the song that has gotten stuck in my head the most over the past week. I think this song can be seen as a response to “Truth” and “No Matter The Reason”. Where the other songs show signs of a potential break-up, “World Goes Round” is a song about putting the past aside and taking the risks of moving forward. They’re going to “take [they’re] chances together” and start again.
Favorite Lyric: “Does the end of the rope mean hell or hope”
Where I Belong
TW: Suicide, Depression
This is where my earlier disclaimer comes in. I may be way off base here, but I can’t not hear this song as suicide ideation. If I’m being honest, it seems Zac is no stranger to songs about depression (“In A Way”, “Use Me Up”, “Save Me From Myself”, “Siren Call”, “I Lift You Up”). In “Where I Belong”, we see him alone, in the dark, “hoping someone will hear [him] call”. He talks about wanting to be taken home, and I get the sense he means “home” in a more permanent sense. And remember earlier when I said I wondered if maybe “Wake Up” was about something other than a love interest? There is a part of me that wonders if the someone he’s longing to be with is death, or perhaps the afterlife. (“Would it change a thing to know you’re not real”?)
These lyrics are a heavy subject, no matter the interpretation. But the song itself sounds more like Digital Pants material. In fact, the “honey honey honey” and “loving loving loving” in the background immediately made me think of all the “yummy yummy yum yum”s from “Where You Want To Go” off Edible Digital Pants. The instrumentation sounds like it was pulled straight out of The Machine. If you read my review of White Rabbit, you might recall that I mentioned Zac’s Enneagram is a 5w6. When Fives are in stress, they go to Seven, which is where we often see the goofy stage version of Zac. I have a theory that “in stress”, Zac went to Seven and made the overall sound of this song a little silly to try to cover up the vulnerability of the lyrics. And unlike his sadder songs from the past, this time he didn’t have a supportive cowriting brother around to tell him no. It’d fall higher on my ranking if not for this.
Favorite Lyric: “I’ve been lost so long I can’t remember anymore”
The Gift Of Tears
“The Gift Of Tears” sounds to me like a response to “Where I Belong”. The song speaks to someone who is in a dark place, and is a reminder that even in that darkness, not all hope is gone. He even makes a specific reference to “get down on your knees, brother, and kiss the ground”. I know many people use the word brother in a nonliteral sense, but I can’t help but make all these connections with these songs. As someone who tends to bottle up her feelings, the line “the gift of tears will calm your fears” is very real to me. When I do finally cry over something, it’s centering and helps me see things clearly.
Favorite Lyric: “When all hope is dead and gone, pray on”
Child At Heart
I can’t help but think “Child At Heart” is at least partially in response to “Where I Belong”. Taylor has said that he was inspired by listening to his two-year old talk about what he had hoped to do that day. As Taylor put it in American Songwriter, “the message is ultimately about staying hopeful and pure, in spite of the challenges life can bring.” What greater challenge is there in life than our darkest moments when we feel we’ve lost all hope? He’s literally encouraging the listener to not be afraid to face another day. They’re hurting, but Taylor wants them to not let that stop them from opening their heart back up to the world.
Side note: how cute is the demo? Does anyone else think it sounds like Indy is saying “you don’t have to do that”? I’m laughing at the idea of Taylor being like “oh hey I gotta write this song” and his two-year old going “no you don’t.”
Favorite Lyric: “Breathe. You are no mistake.”
We Belong Together
I saved “We Belong Together” for last, because a) I think it too is a follow-up of all the previous songs I’ve mentioned and then some, b) it might be the song I end up having the most to say about, and c) it’s the first song that tipped me off that these might all be related (brother band pun unintended). I think like “Bad”, I’m just going to have to go line by (most) line through this song.
“I can see the empty in your eye” – the sign of someone’s depression
“The world has come to push you down again”/”Now you wonder why the world’s closing in”/”You’ve been holding up the world alone” – DLMD has the lines “you can’t let the world consume you” and “they can’t push you around”
“It’s hard to breath you count your beating heart” – in “Child At Heart”, Taylor is repeatedly reminding him to breath. In “Wake Up” there’s a reference to “your hand on my heart”
“Alone in darkness and you’re lost again” – WIB says “it feels so dark”
“Cause we belong together” and “If you call my name I’m never far away” both feel very much like a direct response to the cry of “hoping someone will hear me call from where I belong”
“The waves keep coming” – I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but Zac has a whole heck of a lot of song lyrics that reference water/drowning. “Save Me From Myself”, “Fire On The Mountain”, Siren Call”, “What Are We Fighting For”, “Compromise”, to name a few, and even says in WIB “let me float away”
“All of this living has been taking your life… but don’t forget we’re still alive tonight” sounds like a response to someone who has been thinking about death
“If you’re feeling lost because you fell off course” – there’s a line in “What Are We Fighting For” that says “with nobody watching no wonder we got off course”
“You don’t have to break to break alone” – a response to “somewhere that I won’t feel so broken” in WIB
“Your skin is aching and you’re wondering why” sounds like a response to “So many thins you can’t tell from just the scars on my skin” in “Bad”
At its core, this song is a clear message that he cares for the person he’s singing to and that no matter what, he won’t leave them. He’s there for them in the darkest of moments and they’re better together. One last note: at the listening party, the very first thing I noticed about this song was that the muted percussion sounds in the background reminded me of the breathing sounds in “I Lift You Up”.
Favorite Lyric: “On the mountain top you feel your brave heart drop”
I don’t know, y’all. Either I’m on to something here or they’re all just that good at writing songs. Or both. There is a part of me that I hopes I’ve taken this too far, and again I want to clarify that this all just pure speculation on my part. But if there is any chance that I’m right here, I really hope there’s therapy involved. If you’re reading this and have resonated with any of these feelings, please reach out to someone.
At the listening party in Tulsa, I couldn’t hear the lyrics well enough to fully appreciate this album. I was too thrown off by how mellow it was compared to the Hanson we know and love. But after spending time digging deep into how well crafted these songs are, I can’t get enough. It’ll never quite reach the level of “I can’t wait to jump and dance to this at a Hanson concert” but it’s top shelf for sure. Five Stars. 15/10 Recommend.
One thought on “Album Review: Red Green Blue”
I’ve an inkling that your theories are correct, Zac seems to be really pouring his heart out on this record and I think it has A LOT to do with what happened. It hurts to entertain these thoughts but I do hope they’re all getting the help they need