Against The World by Hanson
10 Dec 2021
When I saw there was a new record from the long haired, baby faced Hanson boys I should be forgiven for thinking this was their first studio excursion since the late nineties. Everyone I have spoken to since discovering this record has been on the same page as me so imagine my surprise when I discovered they actually never entirely disappeared. Not only that, they have had eight albums in the top 40 of the US Billboard 200 since 1997. Where have I been? The answer to that is 'in the UK' where the MMMbop boys had the Peter Pan treatment and live in everyones minds as a late nineties pre-teen cake party soundtrack.
Against The World sits right on the border of acceptability at just 27 minutes of music despite the band website referring to it as an album. It also features a massive Zero previously unreleased tracks which is an interesting move. If you have followed Hanson this year then you will have already heard all seven tracks as they were released as consecutive monthly singles.
With all that said the opening track, Annalie, is surprising likeable. A fast paced folk rock tune with characteristic harmonies and playful guitar. I've tried to avoid saying it is reminiscent of Paul Simon since that's how the band have described it, but it's awfully reminiscent of Paul Simon. No two places on this record sound the same though and Paul's influence ends there. From Annalie we drop in to a hard rock anthem lick and opening bars from the eighties rock textbook with Don't Ever Change. The clean harmonised vocals seem out of place and the stadium chants and guitar solo are all a little too derivative.
Its clear Hanson are trying to showcase their versatility with this release by including a wide range of styles and genres. Unfortunately what this has resulted in is Hanson karaoke. It's well performed karaoke for sure but there's not a great deal there of their own personality.
The third track on the album, Only Love, starts out with an uncanny Eddie Vedder impression and builds in to an overall underwhelming attempt at a call to rise up and change the world. Hanson picture their audience all chanting along whilst clapping their hands enthusiastically above their heads when in reality we are all trying to guess what band they will be emulating in the next track. The dramatic acapella harmonies at the end do nothing to save the song.
Title track Against The World thinks far too highly of itself. A power pop rock tune with influences from all across the industry. Bon Jovi may have got this tune to work 20 years ago but this cheaper version lacks soul and originality. There's no denying the catchy hook and simple melody though which, whether we like it or not, will get firmly lodged in our heads and this will be enough for many listeners.
To close the record Hanson pull out the group hand claps against marching drums to introduce another powerful anthem, Fearless. A pre chorus backed only by strings and another arrogant but memorable hook. There seems to be a formula behind all the fancy dress that this band can simply apply to whichever style they feel like playing. That aspect is admittedly impressive but in a school talent show sense.
Against The World is an odd release from my perspective and I only hope there was a deeper meaning to all this that I simply haven't understood. Theres not a great deal to fault in the production and I think for the most part the boys have shown they have a pretty decent standard of songwriting ability. There are even songs in here that I like. The biggest problem is that the record as a whole has no identity. The songs are often performed so on brand they become parody and since they can't shake their trademark harmonies the vocals often feel pasted on. Maybe this project was not meant to be viewed alone but alongside their decades long career as a display of where they have come and what they can do. That wouldn't make me listen to the record any more than I have but at least it would give it a purpose which is exactly the thing I am struggling to understand. Take a listen to this album and feel free to let me know what you think.