Only Love Is Gonna Save Us Now

When Hanson announced their new project Against The World would be released one song at a time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do my blog review. Would each song get its own post? Would I wait until November when they’ve all been released? As you may have noticed, I finally settled on one blog post for all the songs combined, but that I would update that post each month as songs are released. After all, I usually only have a little snippet to say about a song anyway.

But then I heard the third track, “Only Love”, and I knew this one was going to use a lot more words than the first two songs. I decided to keep my review brief for the Against The World blog, while also making a separate post to go on a deep dive for this one.

Whenever I first listen to a song, I mostly hear how it makes me feel overall, not paying much attention to the specific lyrics. This song was an exception to that. There were several lyrics that jumped out to me, and then I listened to the song, on repeat, for my entire flight to Chicago. The first line that hit me was “she headed south, without a care, without a clue, didn’t give a damn.” What, you might wonder, could be so significant about that lyric? Well, it’s me. I’m coming up on my 15-year “Nashiversary”. I grew up in small town Michigan and went to college in small town Indiana. Then, that summer after college, I packed up my Camry, had $500 to my name, no job, and no place to live, and moved south to Nashville. I never imagined I’d be here for so long, but here we are a decade and a half later, and I have no intentions of leaving anytime soon. This lyric hits home because not only did I head south, but looking back, at a mere 23 years of age, I certainly had no cares, no clues, and no damns to give.

But as much as that lyric hit home, it wasn’t the one that made me realize this song was going to need a full blog. It was the third verse that stood out to me the most:

I know all too well my demons, and broken dreams, and running head-long into false plans
I get bogged down in self-doubt, dying inside, bleeding out, yeah
So whether hipsters or holy-rollers, we find ourselves holding court on our knees
But broken won’t define you, ’cause love can always find you
Only love is gonna save us now

Hanson – “Only Love”

I was immediately reminded of a book I read several years ago by Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It’s a short little booklet that only took me about 20 minutes to re-read before writing this blog. The premise of the book is that true humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but rather thinking of ourselves less. But what this song reminded me of was how Keller says we can get to a place of thinking of ourselves less. He references 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, in which Paul says “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” In Keller’s book, he runs with this analogy. He says that if our self-esteem is too high and we are prideful, we have put ourselves on trial and found ourselves innocent. And on the flip-side, if we find ourselves guilty, our self-esteem will be too low. So, what then? To quote Keller:

Here is Paul’s answer: he is out of the courtroom, he is out of the trial. How? Because Jesus Christ went on trial instead… As our substitute. He took the condemnation we deserve; He faced the trial that should be ours so that we do not have to face any more trials. So I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what the Lord Jesus has done. Then, the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and He finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the earth.

Tim Keller – The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness

I know not everyone reading this blog has the same belief system, but this is what I believe is true: that “only love is gonna save us now”. And in fact, it already has.

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.)

Fan Club EP Review: Crossroads

Muscle Shoals

This song’s borderline country feel is the perfect opener to such a rootsy EP. I’m not into country (despite growing up with it), and while “Muscle Shoals” flirts with twang, it’s still very much the ’50s/’60s feel I’ve grown to love from this band. It was a lot of fun to dance to at the Hanson Day concert, and I hope to hear it live again someday. Any Isaac lead with a groove will always earn points with me, and this song also gets bonus points for a Tennessee shout out, even if I don’t live near that particular river. While I had heard of the town, I had no idea of its rich musical history, and until recently I thought it was closer to the gulf. Turns out it’s a short drive from Nashville, so I’ll be sure to make a day trip down there someday soon… and now I’ll have the perfect soundtrack.

Favorite Lyric: “By the Tennessee River, we’ll be turning water to wine.”

EP Ranking: 1st place

Better Man

I got to hear “Better Man” as a solo on the Wintry Mix tour and at Back To The Island. I liked it right away, but I love this EP version even more! However, I strangely didn’t like it as much when performed full band at Hanson Day this year. I can’t put my finger on why, but this has to be a unique situation where I prefer studio, then solo live, then full band live. “Better Man” as a Zac lead sounds to me more like what we’ve heard on full length albums than many of the Zac leads we’ve had on the fan club EPs over the years, which tend to all have the same sound to them. (Don’t get me wrong, I like most of those songs!) While lyrically it’s not as strong as “Young and Dumb” or “Somebody That Wants To Love You”, there’s something similar to me about the sound of these three songs that almost makes me think they could make up 3/5th of their own EP. “Better Man” somehow manages to be both mellow and catchy, and of all the songs on Crossroads, it’s the one I find stuck in my head the most.

Favorite Lyric: “You cut me deep when you let me believe that all of my wounds from you would heal.”

EP Ranking: 2nd place

Undivided Attention

The lyrics to this song have the same feel to me as “Heartbreaker” and “Man On Top”, where the protagonist just seems conceited. Because of that, this song overall falls flat to me. However, I do love the swampy sound this song has, and it’s fun to listen to while driving. But, unfortunately, it won’t make heavy rotation for me.

Favorite Lyric: Taylor’s piano

EP Ranking: 3rd place

Come Over

Do you ever watch the behind the scenes “making of” clips of Hanson’s songs? If so, you’ll know that sometimes when they’re tracking instruments, they’ll just start singing nonsense words to the tune of the song. That’s what “Come Over” sounds like to me. Even the quality of the vocals feels like a demo. In the famous words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

Favorite Lyric: “We can do better [than just survive].”

EP Ranking: 5th place

Missing You

I got to hear this song at Back To The Island in 2018, so I’m surprised it took this long for it to find a home. In the same way that I compared “Better Man” to “Young And Dumb” and “Somebody That Wants To Love You”, the muted drums on this song remind me of breaths in “I Lift You Up”. So while the songs have very different lyrics and meanings, they have a similar sound to me. Lyrically, “Missing You” is pretty much every other Isaac love song, but somehow this time it’s broodier.

Favorite Lyric: “And the sounds of the city make me long for home.”

EP Ranking: 4th place

Overall Impression

I love 2 of the songs on this EP, there’s one I’d toss out, and two that fall somewhere in the middle. This is about on par with most of the Fan Club EPs for me. I do really enjoy the rootsy/swampy feel of these songs, and because of that, I’m looking forward to the release of all the songs from Against The World. If you haven’t listened to “Annalie” yet, make sure you go check it out… I’ll have a review of that coming soon. The second single, “Don’t Ever Change” will be released this week!

Hanson Day 2021

Tulsa, Oklahoma

May 20 – 24, 2021

If you’ve ever had the chance to attend Hanson Day in the past, you’ll know that the extended weekend is typically a whirlwind packed full of events: between multiple concerts, karaoke, the I ❤ Hanson store, the art gallery, the dance party, painting, bowling, and lines upon lines, there’s hardly time to eat or sleep. You can’t go anywhere in the Arts District or Brookside neighborhoods of Tulsa without running into a handful of fans, and if you stay for Hop Jam, you’ll hardly be able to make your way down Main Street amongst all the beer and music enthusiasts.

This year, however, was not that. I still remember that day last year when news broke that Hanson Day 2020 was going to be postponed until 2021. I think we all new it was coming, but at the time I never would have guessed that Hanson Day 2021 would also be affected. The silver lining though is that there was enough notice this time around (see what I did there?) for Hanson to come up with really great back-up plan.

The Events

Hanson put together a full week of streaming events, virtual meet-and-greets, and a full week of “pin hunting” on the website. Everything started on Monday when this year’s Fan Club EP, Crossroads, went up in the media player (and, depending on when you join/renew, available for download). I’ll get more into details on the EP in my next blog post, but it was fun to hear all these new songs and digest them via group chat with my friends. Later that night, Hanson went live and took questions from fans about the EP (and also some inevitable questions about The Masked Singer).

On Tuesday, Hanson live streamed their Hanson Time Podcast. The podcast was a new addition to Hanson.net last year as part of the virtual Hanson Day events, but this was the first time it was shared live, and it was also the first time it was shared with video. I’ll digress a bit here because I actually never blogged about this, but I had the chance to interview them on the podcast last summer. My theme was “Good Days” (both the song and the general idea), and it was such a fun opportunity. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about it, but mostly the nerves were related to the fact that it would be recorded for all members to hear; I would have been so much more nervous had the video of it been recorded as well. But, this episode’s reporter did such a great job and asked insightful questions. It was easily my favorite episode so far.

Wednesday, Hanson went live again, this time to share more about the art in this year’s gallery. Like Hanson Day galleries in the past, there were original paintings from Zac as well as some photographs from Taylor. This year, Zac also painted on a few sets of Russian Dolls, and I thought they were all really cool looking. Because this year’s gallery was virtual, in lieu of selling the art work on a first come, first serve basis, they set up a raffle system on the website’s store. I thought this was a really great idea, and I hope they keep it up in the future. This will make one less line to wait in for those who make it to Tulsa, and will still allow those who can’t travel to have a chance at purchasing the artwork.

On Thursday evening, Hanson posted a mini “making of” documentary about Crossroads. I had to watch this one twice, but only because I was only half-watching it from a Tulsa Driller’s game the first time. I always love the chance to get to peek behind the curtain when Hanson is writing and recording, and I liked this mini-doc style better than having several 2-3 minute clips like we have had in the past.

Friday was the one-year-later 20th anniversary This Time Around acoustic concert, followed by a virtual DJ Taylor dance party. On Saturday, we had the main Hanson Day concert, a brief promo video for their new project Against The World, and then they wrapped up the week with a “Night Cap” live stream on Sunday where they played a round of Pictionary with some fans, and took questions as well.

The Concerts

Of the two concerts for this year’s Hanson Day, I was much more excited about the Saturday show. When given the choice between album songs that get played at most shows or the more rare members’ tracks, I’ll always choose the latter. That said, I went into the This Time Around Acoustic Show with low expectations…. and I was blown away! Not only was it a solid performance of every song, they also mixed it up and played some of the more common songs (“If Only”, “Hand In Hand”, etc) in slightly different styles (more different than just being acoustic). They also treated us to some rare B-sides: “Lonely Again” and “Smile.” Unfortunately though, I had to deduct quite a few points from this show after my friend told me she saw “Bridges of Stone” listed as a 3rd encore song, which they ended up not playing.

One of my favorite things about the main Hanson Day concert each year is that we get to hear that year’s EP played in full, along with quite a few of the back catalogue members’ songs. I was really bummed last year when we didn’t get to hear the songs off Continental Breakfast In Bed since Hanson Day was cancelled, so I was hoping they’d make it up to us this year. Zac did play “Good Days” (which he had also played at one of the shows this past fall), but that was it. I suppose that if they had done Crossroads and CBIB, it would have been a lot of new material to learn in addition to re-working the TTA songs, plus it would throw off the number of solos during the show. I was especially disappointed when Taylor sat down at his piano for what I thought was going to be “All I Know” and instead it was the-song-that-shall-not-be-named-because-it-makes-all-my-friends-cry-and-not-in-the-good-way. In fact, only 31% of the show was members’ only songs, compared to the 70% from the Hanson Day concerts in years past. (Shout [it] Out to Hansonstage for the stats.) Despite the setlist not meeting my expectations, it was still a really great concert. They played everything so well, it was high energy, and everything about it is why “we keep coming back (yeah we keep coming back).”

The Tulsa Life

Being in Tulsa this time felt so much different than any other Tulsa trip I’ve been on. The trips over this fall and winter were so quiet compared to the typical Hanson Day weeks, but this weekend felt like a weird mix of the two. There was an Ironman Triathlon on Sunday which brought in 2,500 participants plus all their friends and family who came to support them. It made the city feel just as busy as when there’s Mayfest, the Blue Dome fest, Hanson Day, and Hop Jam, but there was still only about 1/10th the typical number of Hanson fans. My friends and I spent most of the day Sunday standing at the corner of the finish line cheering people on. I’m not a sports person, but that day I learned that running is my favorite spectator sport. It was so much fun to watch the runners’ facial expressions change and their energy pick up as they heard people cheering for them and then rounded the corner and the finish line came into sight. A few of them got emotional, and so, in turn, did I.

These past few months of shows have been unique. Even though a lot of my friends have been to the same shows that I have, we were actively not mixing our smaller groups as a Covid precaution. However, I got to see more of them this time now that we’re all vaccinated. (Please, if you haven’t yet, get vaccinated. Science is real, it’s not a new technology, and it does not contain the coronavirus. The long-term effects of getting even a mild case of Covid are unknown, and there’s only one way we’ll ever get back to normal. *Steps off soap box*) It’s been nice to have down time and explore more of the city, but I’m looking forward to hopefully having a normal Hanson Day and Hop Jam in 2022.

Listener’s Choice: A Socially Distanced Concert Series

Tulsa, OK

January 7-10, 2021

Well, it’s January 2021, and even though I had signed up for my 4th annual trip to Jamaica, all I got was my 4th monthly trip to Oklahoma. Between our recent previous visits, the cold weather, and Covid cases on the rise, we didn’t do too much exploring around town on this trip. We bundled up to eat outside at a few places, went into a few shops in the Art District so I could buy a gift for a friend, and rode Lime scooters everywhere we went (including knee-first into the pavement). Call me crazy, and maybe this is my former Michigander talking, but I prefer 40° Tulsa over 80° Tulsa.

I’ll be honest, when Hanson announced that the theme for the January shows was going to be “Listener’s Choice”, with fans voting on the songs they wanted to hear, I was disappointed. When the voting started, I continued to be disappointed. A lot of the songs we were choosing from were songs that are played at almost every show. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how the shows played out, most of my votes won, and the back half of the set lists had some great surprises. I have to say this was my favorite of the three non-Christmas weekends. (Christmas is its own category and cannot be compared.)

While truly rare* songs were in short supply, there were plenty that I haven’t heard in a long time, and even the more common songs just sounded extra great this weekend. Song highlights include: “Blue Sky”, “Save Me”, “Smile”, “Stories”, “The Ugly Truth”, “Tonight”, “Nothing Like A Love Song”, and “Sunny Day”. There’s no denying that that’s a solid list of rares and semi-rares right there. Honorable mention goes out to “Look At You” which gets frequent enough play, but ages like a fine wine. Ironically my least favorite back in 1997, it’s now my favorite live song off Middle of Nowhere.

Here’s a list of the songs I voted for compared to the songs that won:

The real highlight of these show was the energy. My body was a bit sore after the October weekend, considering I’m pushing 40 and 3 shows in 24 hours is no joke, especially after so many months of sitting at home. But after these shows? With no slow acoustic middle to sit and take a break during, there’s no more accurate way to describe what I felt than “my body is tired and broken.” (Though I’m sure that scooter fall didn’t help.) I’ve since fully recovered and I’m sure come the first weekend in February, my body will wonder why it’s not jumping and dancing for 2-hour blocks at a time.

Whenever I end a string of shows (or attend a one-off), I try to take in that show as though it’s my last. If 2020 proved anything to be true, it’s that the unexpected can happen at any point in time, and I never want to take that potential last show for granted. Hanson Day 2021 is technically still on the books, though I’ll be surprised if it can happen without any alterations. There have been hints of more of these types of shows to come, and if we can achieve herd immunity then there’s hope for a real tour somewhere down the line. But, you never know, baby, you never know. In the meantime, reader, please keep wearing your masks (I promise it’s not an infringement on your rights), get tested if you have any suspicions you have or have been exposed to Covid, and when it’s your turn, please get vaccinated.

*One thing I have learned over the years is that the definition of “rare” varies from fan to fan, and I think from band member to band member as well. What’s more rare: a song you’ve only heard once a year every year for the past 5 years? Or a song you’ve heard 20 times, but not in the past 5 years?