June 1, 2021

Against The World: ANNALIE

Against The World

Let's have an honest talk about Against The World for a moment. Since its official announcement, fan reactions have been varied somewhere between excited, disappointed, upset, and totally shocked. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, I think it's safe to say that none of us were expecting to be told that ATW would consist of seven songs released one at a time over seven months. I won't lie, I fell solidly in the shocked category at first, and if I had to choose my own three letter acronym the day of the announcement, I'd swap out the "A" for an "F" and reverse the order. Since then, I've thought a lot about how it made me feel and whether I had the right to feel anything at all apart from acceptance. To give you yet another unnecessary food analogy because it's what I do, here's the one I've landed on for an accurate description of my expectations vs. reality regarding Against The World:

Finding out the specifics about Against The World was kind of like having your aunt tell you that she’s bringing her famous sweet potato casserole to Thanksgiving. It’s your favorite dish and you’ve eaten it every year since you were a kid, but this year she shows up and it has raisins in it. Technically she did exactly what she said she was going to do—she brought the casserole—but you weren’t expecting raisins because you didn’t know raisins were even on the table as a possibility. Historically, there’s never been raisins, so you’re disappointed because you made what you thought was a safe assumption based on the information you were given. Basically, Hanson brought the raisins to Thanksgiving, and we weren’t prepared.

It's been a few weeks now, and after having time to digest the announcement--raisins and all--I've accepted the fine print and am excited and ready to hear the rest of the songs. But that still leaves me with a big question as a blogger: how does one properly review an album released in this way? Do I wait until November when we have the whole thing? Do I go song by song? Should I stop at the halfway point and review the first four? Since the announcement, Hanson has made it clear that they are proud of each song from ATW and that they want to give each one the proper attention it deserves. Taking that into consideration, it only seems fair that I try to do the same. I've done a few nerdy analytical posts about single songs in depth in the past, but I normally like to review a full album all at once. Since I also normally like to receive a full album all at once, we're going to try this Hanson's way: a blog post per song, per month, right up until the end.


I loved "Annalie" the first time I heard it previewed at the Wintry Mix tour in 2019. I came home with it stuck in my head for weeks, and I can vaguely remember telling Hanson at some point that they better not scrap it from the Against The World track list. I gushed in my blog and said it was "destined to go down in Hanson history as a classic earworm of a Hanson song."

Now that we have the studio version and the music video, the thing that stands out to me the most is the train imagery. The initial teaser for the release was a cryptic invitation to RSVP with a photo of a train, and the confirmation email included a round-trip "ticket" to Memphis.

The music video followed shortly after and includes similar shots of trains and fields. 

But the most interesting part about the trains is that the lyrics themselves don't actually refer to trains, tracks, railroads, or anything of the sort, just lots of descriptions about traveling through Memphis. So how do I still come away from this song feeling like there were trains hidden in there anyway?

It's all in the sound. The drums, for lack of a better term, have that sort of "chug-a-chug-a" train rhythm where you can practically hear the wheels clicking on the tracks. And the background "ooohs" in the verses? Those are reminiscent of some impressively harmonic train whistles (Think "choo choo," but where the "ch" is silent). I'm a little surprised that they did this all without a single verbal train mention, but I'm also kind of impressed because the image still comes across so clearly that it can't possibly be anything but intentional.

As for the lyrics, if you take it at face value, it's a pretty straight-forward song about a guy searching for this girl, presumably having "lost" her and wanting her back in his life ("Annalie, come home"). He paints her this image of how they could be happy traveling around iconic places in Memphis, emphasizing that it's not really about what they're doing as long as they're together ("I don’t really care where we stop/Just as long as I get to go").

My favorite line is "empty pockets filling our hearts," which reminds me a lot of the feeling I get listening to Simon & Garfunkel's "Looking For America." The sound of the two songs is nothing alike, but there's this similar vibe of two people aimlessly wandering, enjoying their time together, but with a melancholy undertone of still being a bit lost. The difference is in "Annalie," she's not actually with him on the journey; he's romanticizing the idea of what could be if she came back.

Which leads me to the most ironic plot twist of this song that I did not notice until I sat down to write this post and made myself close-read the lyrics. Here's the TL;DR recap of "Annalie" in a single sentence, the bad book summary, if you will: Guy begs girl to come home, cites extensive examples of running away from home as support to get her there.

He's begging her to come home, but then immediately tells her they can run away, "try on someone else's clothes," and disappear in a new city. What? 

I know, I know, I'm reading too much into it. "Home" is simply by his side, and anywhere can be home as long as they're together. I still find it hilarious. "Annalie, come home. JK, here's a list of places I'll take you in Memphis."

Alternate interpretation? Zac has told us that they chose the name "Annalie" because it translates to "God's grace." Given that detail, you could probably argue that the song is about a guy who has lost touch with God and is wandering around trying to find his way again. I'm more inclined to believe that if the name is significant, then the girl--Annalie--IS the grace that God put in his life, and he messed up and lost her and is trying to win her back.


Unknown said...

I felt the same way when they first announced, bit now after a bit I'm excited that I have something else cool to look forward to for the next 6 months! The song holds a special meaning for me as my "one that got away" reappeared after 7 years and we both finally feel we are home.

Jody L. Powell said...

Re: the plot twist, I take it to mean, "come home to me/come back to me, and I'll take you on adventures in Memphis. Not necessarily that he means "come home/come back and we'll stay home/just sit at home doing nothing".

But I really like the spiritual aspect of the guy finding God again and/or that Annalie is grace he wants back in his life.

And I totally get the Simon and Garfunkel "America" vibe.