Album Review: Red Green Blue

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.

Rambling Heart

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

“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

Greener Pastures

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”

Wake Up

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

“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”

Truth

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”

In Summary

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.

I’m a spreadsheet girl


Fan Club EP Review: White Rabbit

Strange World

The sound of this song is exactly what I would expect from an EP titled White Rabbit, and that makes it a great opening track. My only complaint about this song is that I love me a good Hanson bridge, and there isn’t one in this song, which means it also feels like it abruptly ends as it’s about to take off (much like “Fearless” from Against The World). But I love how the instrumentation has a psychedelic sound that sends me right down the rabbit hole…

I’m a big Enneagram nerd (and a 9w1, but this isn’t about me). I’ve found myself in many conversations with friends trying to decipher what Enneagram we think each Hanson is. I had landed on Isaac being a 4w3, Taylor being a 3w2, and Zac being a 5w4. Last fall, I re-read the book The Road Back To You and started thinking Isaac would enjoy it, as at the time he had been sharing some other “self-help”/psychology type books on Instagram. At the October 2021 shows at Cain’s, I brought him a copy. He immediately started laughing and said he had been wanting to read it, had just purchased the audio book, but was wanting a hard copy to follow along with. So, naturally, I asked him what Enneagram he and his brothers are, and dang it I was so close: Isaac is a 2w3, Taylor is a 3w4, and Zac is a 5w6.

So, what does this have to do with “Strange World”? Well, first, Zac is a Five and this is a Zac song. And:

Fives want to find out why things are the way they are. They want to understand how the world works, whether it is the cosmos, the microscopic world, the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdoms—or the inner world of their imaginations. They are always searching, asking questions, and delving into things in depth. They do not accept received opinions and doctrines, feeling a strong need to test the truth of most assumptions for themselves.

-The Enneagram institute

We see this playing out in the lyrics of “Strange World”. After all, “so much we know for sure is just what we comprehend.” Second, as soon as I heard this song it reminded me of another song, but one not by Hanson. The artist Sleeping At Last did a whole series on the Enneagram, writing a song for each number with an accompanying podcast where he did a deep dive into each type and how he created the song. And there’s something about “Strange World” that reminds me of his song “Five“. In “Strange World”, we see a character trying to understand how the world around him works and it’s summed up in my

Favorite Lyric: “Two eyes to see, but what we perceive is rarely what it was. And so, to me, it’s just a strange world.”

EP Ranking: 1st Place

Trembling

“Trembling” is a fun power-pop song. I’ve read some comments from other fans that say they think it sounds like Tinted Windows, but I don’t quite hear it. To me, it’s reminiscent of “Miss You Like Crazy” or “Somebody Who Wants To Love You” from past members’ EPs. This song is pretty straight-forward, so I’ll spare you the rabbit hole this time. But, you can be sure I’ll be blasting this in my car over the next several months.

Favorite Lyric: “I know that you’ve been afraid, but you know I would give it all away.”

EP Ranking: 4th Place

Happy

“Happy” is a fun song that I can’t help but dance to. If it wasn’t a members’ only track, I’d be tempted to make a trending TikTok dance out if it (as if I have that kind of influence). My first impression of this song is that it sounds like it belongs on a commercial, but I didn’t have any specific product in mind. I’d love to hear your suggestions! It’s another one I’ll be pumping in my car this summer, and I’m looking forward to putting it on some work out playlists as well.

Favorite Lyric: “Walking down the street I can feel the sweet rhythm of life.”

EP Ranking: 3rd Place

Your Eyes

I remember hearing “Your Eyes” in Jamaica both in 2020 and in 2022. It’s a beautiful love song that sounds like any other Isaac love song until you get to the plot twist bridge: “I’ll grow old and you will find another who sees in your eyes what I saw in your mothers”. I guess I can’t say for certain that this song is not about either of Isaac’s sons, but I’m wondering what made Odette think she didn’t have a song written for her until “Write You A Song”. All in all, this song is Isaac doing what Isaac does: pulling on the heartstrings with a sentimental love song, even if the subject isn’t what we think it is at first.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ll always need your smile, some things never change.”

EP Ranking: 5th Place

Climb

I’ve noticed a trend with Taylor: he loves to talk about climbing and building ladders (“Climb”, “Reaching For The Sky”, that commencement speech he gave at TU, etc)…. Enneagram 3 much? As someone who has recently gotten into hiking, I really appreciate the literal translation of this song as much as the metaphor. The lyric “to the outside you’re small, you’ve been racing to get tall, but I know one day you’ll reach the peaks I never saw” makes me think he wrote this song with at least one of his kids in mind. While I do like this song a lot, I don’t think any EP or album closer will ever top the best EP closer of all time, “All I Know”. And it’s just a little too Miley for me to put it in 1st place on White Rabbit.

Favorite Lyric: “From the high seat, they’re all breathtaking valleys. But I still long for the finite days down there.”

EP Ranking: 2nd Place

Overall Impression

These five songs have the variety I look forward to in a Hanson Fan Club EP: Poignant (“Climb”), experimental (“Strange World”), fun (“Happy”, “Trembling”), and sentimental (“Your Eyes”). I haven’t heard many people talk about this EP and I think it might get lost in discography having been released so close to Red Green Blue. And we didn’t get to hear it live at Hanson Day (more on that in my HDay blog), so I worry that these songs will be swept away into the vault much like CBIB. But, here’s hoping I’m wrong.

I made this list of first impressions on my phone during the listening party.

*Hoolge is what my friends and I affectionally call hansonstage.com

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!