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.
This blog post was updated each month as new songs were released. The last update was on Saturday, November 6, 2022.
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
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
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!
This song is “Give A Little” meets Van Morrison and it’s a combination I didn’t know I needed. It’s incredibly catchy, and the harmonica (thanks to John Fullbright) adds the perfect touch. If you listened to the Hanson Time Podcast Listening Party, you might recall Isaac saying this song makes him want to go to a barn dance party, and I promise I was thinking the exact same thing before he mentioned it. Whenever concerts are allowed again, I hope this track will come out of the fan club vault.
Favorite Lyric: “You know I can’t say no… Lord, tell me how to say no to this”… oh. My bad. That’s Hanson mashed with Hamilton. But it’s the lyric I cannot get out my head, real or not.
EP Ranking: 3rd place
I don’t know if this song was written before or during the coronavirus lockdown, but it helps me remember to see the positive side of living during a global pandemic, which is taking the time to slow down and truly live moment to moment. There’s a lyric that says to “let the summer wash you like a wave”, and it’s almost onomatopoetic as the song itself sounds and feels like being washed by a wave. The keyboard sounds like steel drums to me, which makes me think of the “everything’s ire” vibe of the Caribbean, and I think that’s ultimately the vibe of this song as well.
Favorite Lyric: “Don’t let a moment pass you by.”
EP Ranking: 5th place
Miss You Like Crazy
This song reminds me of “MMMBop” in that it sounds cheesy at first, but after digging into the verses, you realize there is some depth after all. However, also like “MMMBop”, it’s not my favorite. (Go ahead, throw your stones.) It’s a fun power-pop love song, but I just can’t get into it all that much. It almost sounds more like a Tinted Windows song to me than a Hanson song. (See also: “Cut Right Through Me”.)
Favorite Lyric: “You knew my flaws and you still took me home.”
EP Ranking: 6th place
As the name suggests, Isaac wrote this song for his wedding, and I’ve been able to hear it live twice: once in 2008, and again in 2018. I’m excited that we finally have a recording of it, as I love how simple and beautiful it is. As Zac joked in the Listening Party podcast, “some of the best things in the world are ooey gooey”, and this song is no exception. The strings are what make this song. Isaac mentioned on the podcast that they had a “proper quartet”, but I’m looking forward to the liner notes to see if he contributed to the cello at all.
Favorite Lyric: “Even through my worst of days you’ve been here for me.”
EP Ranking: 4th Place
I’ll be completely honest with you all, I’m not a fan of this song. Maybe it will grow on me over time and my opinion will “Change” (I can’t avoid making a pun), but when I listen to this, all I really hear is noise. I’ll have to take a look back on it when we get the written lyrics, because I’m having a hard time deciphering most of the verses. That said, the melody of this song is the one that has gotten stuck in my head the most this weekend. My favorite lyric below is really more out of default that it’s one of the few where I know what Zac is singing.
Favorite Lyric: “There’s no time like the present to be all that you can be… whatever that be.”
EP Ranking: 7th place
First, I just have to say I loved getting two Isaac leads on this EP. This song is a beautiful story of compromise, forgiveness, and fresh starts. At first listen, I took it from the stand point of a married couple. But then as I listened to it more, it started to remind me of the song “One” that Zac sang on The Wintry Mix tour and at Back To The Island 2020. While I also initially thought that song was about a marital relationship, on the island Zac said it was about the band (which, btw, he also said about the song “Change” in the listening party podcast). It obviously applies to any relationship, as all relationships cause friction, pain, and the need to forgive and begin again.
Favorite Lyric: “If I were wiser I could learn to talk without telling you what to think.”
EP Ranking: 2nd (but a very close 2nd!) place
All I Know
A handful of Hanson songs have literally left me breathless after my first listen, and this is one of them. While one of my favorite things about Hanson is their harmonies, the choice to have Taylor and his piano and nothing else was the perfect one for this song. Also… on the topic of the piano, can we talk about all those mini trills? Absolutely incredible.
On my second listen through of this song, I noticed that the specific way Taylor sings the words “all I know” sounded a lot to me like the way he sings the words “what I know” in “Young And Dumb”. And then I went down a rabbit trail, and I’m about to take you with me. I think these two songs have a very similar theme, and could be looked at as being the same person at two different stages in life.
First, in “Young and Dumb”, we have this guy who is looking at where he is in life, and he realizes with age and knowledge comes cynicism. He’s looking at a “poor reflection in the review mirror”, stuck in the past wishing he could go back to the naivety of being young and dumb. But now in “All I Know”, he’s saying “I’m done with living in the past”, he knows all the wisdom he’s acquired isn’t enough, and he’s ready to shake off that cynicism and keep trying, even if he keeps failing.
Favorite Lyric: “I’ve had enough, I’m tired of this kind of living. It’s not enough; something is bound to give in soon.”
EP Ranking: 1st place
I guess I didn’t know that “Worth The Wait” off last year’s In Real Life was actually about Continental Breakfast In Bed. But jokes aside, After Zac’s motorcycle accident and then the coronavirus lockdown put a hold on Against The World and delayed the making of this year’s members’ EP, it was definitely worth the wait for such a high-quality result. Knowing that at least some of these songs were started during the album process last year, I have high hopes for what comes next.
Piano? Each brother taking lead on a verse? Perfect harmonies? Meaningful lyrics? This song has every element that I love about Hanson. I especially like the turn of melody in the verses, the simple combination of keys and acoustic guitar, and the imagery in the verse, “fighting in a ship on the ocean floor, dying over who drowns first”.* I can’t help but wonder how many compromises were made during the writing process. But while it fits the perfect-Hanson-song mold, there’s still something I can’t quite put my finger on that is a slight miss, not-quite-Hanson’s-best-material song for me.
Favorite Lyric: “I don’t want to start a fire, just to watch bridges burn.”
EP Ranking: 2nd place
Worth the Wait
I have to say I’m not really a fan of the obvious church references in this song’s lyrics. (And this is coming from someone who works at a church.) I have a lot of Hanson songs that I associate with my belief in God, but I much prefer when it’s up to the listener’s interpretation. But, I absolutely love the gospel groove in this song; it’s a melody that makes me want to dance around the kitchen singing into a wooden spoon. I think it’d be neat to hear Hanson explore this sound again in the future, but with a different take on lyrics. That said, I imagine “it’ll be worth the wait” to be a fan anthem sung for years as we wait in lines, and for the inevitable Hanson Time.
Favorite Lyric: “And when we reach the end of this life’s struggle, there’ll be a lasting serenade. Because it’s more than just a destination.” (While I’d rather Hanson pass on obvious religious references, this lyric speaks truth to me.)
EP Ranking: 5th place
The Ballad ofSeymour Better Times
I first heard this song during Zac’s solo show at Back to the Island in 2018. I immediately recognized the guitar melody from this post on Hanson.net back in August 2017. I immediately loved it and hoped we’d get to hear it on the 2018 members’ EP. While it took longer than expected, I’m glad we have it now. When I first heard the EP version, I told my friend that the song got an “upgrade” from the BTTI version, in reference to the drums, kazoo, and slide whistle. All of these elements are a fun, quirky sound to a uniquely clever song. The churchy-references in this song are way more up my alley than “Worth the Wait”. Which brings me to…
Favorite Lyric: “How long must I roam ’til I can go home?” Honorable Mention: “Old ladies singing!” is an actual lyric, friends.
EP Ranking: 1st place
Reading Your Mind
Another song I first heard at BTTI, I went into Hanson Day this year excited that I already knew I’d like at least 2 of the songs on the members’ EP. I do not get the creepy/stalker vibes some of my friends have said they hear in this song. All I hear is a sweet song about young love: a boy spending the night with his love, knowing other people won’t understand. If you weren’t able to attend Hanson Day this year, Zac said this song was written for another artist, but that they’d never say who. I may be way off base, but in my mind this confirms my suspicions that at least one Hanson may be a “Ghostwriter” (hello random song subject matter on the “In Color” EP) for (an)other artist(s), and now I can’t help but wonder who it might be.
Favorite Lyric: “It’s so hard to be waiting, thinking of the life we’ll share.”
EP Ranking: 3rd place
To me, this song has a Springsteen/Summer of ’69 vibes to it, much like “Somebody Who Wants To Love You”, and I’m not mad about it. I’ve lost count of how many couples I know who started out as young, broke, newlyweds. Every single one of them has told me that they now look back on their life in a tiny, run-down one-bedroom apartment and see a sweet season of becoming stronger together. This is what I imagine this song to be about. It starts off looking forward to “the better days”, but then the second verse references the hard times being the better days. I can’t speak from any first-hand experience on this, and I may be way off course, but I think it’s a perspective I haven’t heard Hanson write from before, and I like that it’s something different. Overall though, this song is just okay to me. I wish we had another verse or more lyric-filled chorus over the excessive repetition that “better days are coming.”
Favorite Lyric: “We fight and seek, just trying to live up to our potential.”
EP Ranking: 4th place
In Real Life is a quality fan club EP, and I think I’d rank it somewhere slightly above middle of the stack. I really like 3/5 of the songs, which is more than I’ve liked on the past couple EPs. But, I like the one or two good songs (“Somebody That Wants to Love You”, “I Don’t Want To Go Home”, “Young & Dumb”) from the past couple years more than I like the three good songs from this year.
*Maybe it’s because my parents bought a boat and I started sailing around the same time I became a Hanson fan, but I love every water/boat reference Hanson has. A few that come to mind: Save Me From Myself, Save Me, What Are We Fighting For