June 6, 2019

In Real Life: 2019 EP Review

This year's fan club EP has been on steady rotation in my car for the last few weeks, and In Real Life and I have sat behind enough school buses together by now that I think I'm ready to share my take on Hanson's latest tunes. I thought this would be relatively short, but now that I'm finished, I find myself sitting next to a bunch of colored pens and a triple Venn diagram wondering how my brain even took this in some of the directions it went. I'll probably change my mind several more times as I begin to read others opinions, and you may have gotten none of the same things I got out of it, but that's always been one of the fun things about music.

COMPROMISE
Whether you see them as brothers first and bandmates second or vice versa, there's no denying that Isaac, Taylor, and Zac by nature have ample experience in the compromise department. The harmonies on this one are A+, as was the decision to have shared leads. Just like with "Me Myself and I," the decision to give each brother a solo verse but then blending together in a beautifully harmonized chorus seems a deliberate stylistic choice that perfectly fits the theme and what it means to work together to reach a common goal. Lucky for us, the common goal in this case was a great new song.

One of my favorite things about this song is that the word "compromise" actually has two meanings, and they subtly include both in the lyrics. The way we usually think of "compromise" and the overall meaning of the song fits the first definition: "a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions." But then there's the second definition. To be "compromised" is to be "impaired or diminished in function : weakened, damaged, or flawed." They give it to us after the very first verse:

Why does it feel so hard
To give just a little trust?
Feels like juggling in the dark
And all you end up is cut.

Going along, getting along, believing
One day things will change but all you feel is

Compromised.


I can totally appreciate the word play of setting us up to see how "compromised" and defeated someone can feel, only to finally admit that "compromise" is the only solution to make things work.

Favorite lyric:  "Give what you get when you get what wasn't given." 

I have to think about it a good three times to make sense of this convoluted line, but I love it. I read an implied "you" at the beginning of that lyric. "(You) give what you get when you get what wasn't given." Basically, if you're giving nothing on your end, don't expect the other person to be the first to offer up a concession. You have to be willing to give something to get something in return. The nerd in me also likes that "given" at the end of the line is a homophone for "give in," when a good compromise usually means that everyone involved is "giving in" at least a little bit to get something that works for everyone.

What would make it better?  The only thing that bugs me is I don't actually hear the "d" on the end of "compromise" at any point in the recording the two times it's used that way. I see it in the booklet. It makes contextual sense. But they don't enunciate it, and I think that makes it easy to miss the slightly different meaning.

WORTH THE WAIT
I don't think there's any room to debate the meaning of this song: it's a gospel praise song, and the thing that's worth the wait is heaven. There's talk of Sunday mornings, the presence of "technicolor dreamcoats," brothers and sisters that can show you the way, and a liner note that outright says "gospel bass player solo." In Christianity, it's common to refer to fellow believers as brothers and sisters in Christ (not to mention nuns are often referred to as "sister" in the Catholic sect).

It's a different style than we usually get from Hanson and something we'd only ever get in the "safe" confines of a fan club release. It's not my favorite music style, though I have no issue with the lyrics. I do like that they felt comfortable enough to share it with us while also knowing that their fans must have a large variety of beliefs.

I don't actually have a favorite lyric or a suggestion for what could have made this one better. I think it falls into the category of mostly a skip song even though I can't pinpoint anything specifically wrong with it. I just don't care for the gospel sound and it's official that I never will if Hanson can't even make me appreciate it.

THE BALLAD OF SEYMOUR BETTER TIMES

Let's talk about Seymour. He's your typical screw-up just trying to get by in life, and through it all, he just picks himself up, keeps on going, and hums a happy tune along the way. He might sound like the kind of carefree idiot that would star in a sitcom and have us laughing going "Oh Seymour, not again!" with every new misadventure, but I kind of like the guy. I see him as the eternal optimist who knows his life isn't perfect, but he's not afraid to keep looking for the next bright side instead of wallowing in life's latest disappointment.

When his first round of lovely lasses doesn't work out and he's starting to make enemies, he doesn't sweat it or get depressed, he reminds himself that his journey's going to be long so he's got plenty of time to "fight another day." And when his thieving girlfriend is getting taken down by the police, he's not out back in some dark space writing "Hand in Hand" level revenge songs. He's like cool, let me get my slide whistle and I'm out. The fact that he can walk away from every stressful situation with a song makes me think of the line "When you can't get through it, you can listen to it" from "Been There Before." Seymour is low-key a carefree version of all of us that listen to music when we're down.

And all the church talk and "nightly dreaming of those pearly gates?" Paired with the rest of the EP, I can't help but think the choir in "Worth the Wait might be singing right to Seymour and his wayward actions. The whole song sounds like one giant pep-talk to a struggling Christian, and Seymour might as well be the poster child in need of an intervention. What if "Worth the Wait" is even the "simple song" he sings to ease his pain as he walks away from each disaster? More on the conspiracy theories when I get to Better Days.

Favorite Lyric:  *Old ladies singing* No, just kidding.

But on his way to church
Seymour received a sign,
A messenger from the good Lord
In red high heels with blue eyes.

He said "I will praise the Lord in my own way, and revel in his creation every day."


It's the punchline of the song and tells us that despite his best efforts (are they really, though?), Seymour hasn't changed his ways. I laughed so hard at this line the first time we heard the song in Jamaica in 2018.

What would make it better? An acoustic guitar and waves in the background? Seriously, this one's my favorite. The acoustic version without any production elements might be even better.

READING YOUR MIND

I'm going to go ahead and get the unintentional Twilight similarities out of my system so we can move forward and take this song seriously, because it's actually pretty good. Let me just point out a few things I couldn't ignore the first time I heard it with a quick round of who said it, the Zac Hanson/Edward Cullen edition:

"No one needs to know that I climb through your window."
"You give me everything just by breathing."
"I'm reading your mind."
"When I feel you breathing, you make my dreams come true."


Answer key: they're all Zac except the second one.

Okay, so assuming this song isn't actually about Edward and Bella and wasn't ghostwritten for Robert Pattinson, I'm highly curious about the fact that Zac told us that the song was originally written for another artist. For a song that sounds so personal and somewhat specific, it's hard to imagine giving it away to someone else or what other musician might have experiences that would match the song's content. I thought about it and tried to figure out if any artists jumped out as fitting. Who would be singing about forbidden love? A young artist in a serious relationship? Someone with a controversial love life that people might not accept for some reason? The truth is we don't know enough to do more than speculate, so I quit trying and decided to focus on the fact that this is a Hanson song no matter what else it might have been.

Zac also talked about how sometimes you find yourself writing songs at different points in your life about the same things and referenced "Need You Now." So whether or not this song was written for himself or with someone else in mind, I think there has to be at least some of an autobiographical element to it.

When I wasn't giggling about teen vampire fiction or worrying who it might have been ghostwritten for, my first impression of the song was that it's about the intense feelings of young love. You've got a protagonist who is looking forward to getting older when he can be with the person he loves without hiding it. If we want to be serious about literary similarities, we could probably compare it to Romeo and Juliet. It might not have been a window, but Romeo totally climbed up Juliet's balcony, they were both super young, and people weren't accepting of their love no matter how strongly they felt it themselves. The whole song gives off a sense of just needing to be with this other person even if it means having to sneak around and not being able to share your happiness with anyone else.

"Need You Now" gives off less of a sense of forbidden love, but is still so similar the way it talks about watching someone as they sleep (oh look, more Twilight vibes) and the longing to stay with someone rather than having to part ways ("Soon we'll be together all day long" in "Reading Your Mind" and "The sun is always brighter when you stay" in "Need You Now.") I'm glad we found out about the connection between the two songs because I can totally see it, and that song is old and obscure enough that I doubt I would have thought of it on my own. It also makes a little bit more sense about why Zac would be writing a song from the perspective of a young couple in his 30s if it's more of a flashback to a different time.

Favorite Lyric: "You don't have to tell, but I don't want to hide it." 

I like this line because it can mean a couple of different things, and I like to think that he's not saying he's sick of hiding from everyone else; he's saying "I don't want to hide it (from you)." Essentially "Who cares if nobody knows what we mean to each other as long as we both know?" It's followed by "I just need to see that look in your eyes while I'm reading your mind." To me, that look in her eyes is the look that says I feel the same way you do. Is he reading her mind? No, but just looking into her eyes, he knows they feel connected in the same way. It's sort of this genius dramatically intense way to describe young love as it feels to the Romeos and the Juliets of the world. It's pretty spot-on.

What would make it better? I just want more background info.


BETTER DAYS (feat. some stringless conspiracy theories)
It's easier to ignore the potential religious undertones in "Better Days" than in "Worth the Wait," but I can't help but see the two as connected. To me, the "better days" that are coming are worth the wait; they're heaven. Lines like "What we face will one day be inconsequential" and "The will to believe is all that's essential" are vague enough to be interpreted as just having a positive outlook on life and choosing to believe that things will get better with time, but I read them in a more religious context of believing is all it takes to get you to heaven, and your current struggles will one day be "inconsequential" because you're looking forward to one long eternal better day. The songs are practically synonymous; one is just way more overt.

Now for the conspiracy theory path I mentioned above with Seymour. "Better Days" reads a lot like Seymour's outlook on life to me, and even the titles are similar. The speaker in "Better Days" admits to having misadventures with this person and "fighting and seeking" something. Seymour decides to live to "fight another day" and his entire song is one misadventure after another. The part about "trying to live up to our potential" is similar to the brief moment when Seymour tries to change his sinful ways so that "no longer would he stray." The characters in both songs struggle with wanting to live up to some kind of standard, and both have a positive outlook that things are going to turn out okay. It might be a stretch, but I don't think it's completely outrageous to say that the speaker from "Worth the Wait" and "Better Days" could be the same person, and that the two people from "Better Days" are Seymour and this supportive friend (perhaps the "brother" that's offering to show him the way from "Worth the Wait?"). The speaker could even be Seymour himself taking a second stab at changing his "sinful ways" with the help of a friend who is also trying to walk the right path.

I also can't help but see the mention of music in both "Worth the Wait" and "Seymour Better Times." Seymour sings to ease his pain (and as I've speculated, maybe he's singing "Worth The Wait") and includes a choir of "old ladies singing" at the end. "Worth The Wait" has a choir of angels. The line "There'll be a lasting serenade because it's more than just a destination" feels like some pretty targeted advice for a guy who keeps talking about his long journey and leaning on music to help him carry on.

TL;DR? Total conspiracy theory stretch of a conclusion = "Worth the Wait" is some good-intentioned advice aimed at Seymour, and "Better Days" is also about his continued struggles with the help of a friend.

For a less-crazy conclusion, I'll just say that I like this year's EP and its unexpected ability to make me overthink a couple of good songs for a few hours. Is everything secretly tied together with Seymour at the center of the theme? Probably not. I think really it's a group of songs about everyday life and the kinds of struggles we all face, and Seymour just happens to be like the rest of us trying to navigate our way through everything that comes at us (or in some cases, that we get ourselves into). He's by no means a role-model, but he's relatable and flawed in a lovable way and comes with his own catchy song that I haven't gotten sick of yet. I'd consider that a pretty good endorsement and a reason to renew or join to hear it for yourself if you haven't already. And if you have? I'd love to hear what you think.


1 comment:

Holly F said...

Conspiracy theories for the win. This one is spot on. And I didn't catch the "d" in "compromised" so thanks for pointing out the double-meaning!