September 4, 2021

Against The World

Welcome to another edition of ex-English teacher Hanson fan gets carried away analyzing lyrics and seeing connections between songs.

You don't have to read my past posts about "Tonight" and "Feeling Alive" to make sense of this review, but at the very least you'll need a TL;DR summary: "Tonight" is about a band that feels defeated and is struggling not to throw in the towel and give up. "Feeling Alive" is a continuation of said band having made it through that rough night to the next morning and feeling ready to fight together and push forward.

Thematically, I think "Against The World" fits nicely into a grouping with these two songs as well as "This Time Around." I won't draw you another Venn Diagram, but all of them have similar themes of going into a battle and being willing to protect something that's worth fighting for, regardless of the potential outcome.

I love, love, love the lyrics in ATW because they manage to tell the story of an underdog band striving to keep going in the face of difficulty (oh hi, Cliffs Notes String Theory!) while also being full of references to Hanson's past work (which in itself feels like some meta connection to all the Hanson references in "Tonight." What can I say--Hanson aren't the only ones who like to reach). The word nerd in me is in love with the first line of the song which somehow manages to be an entirely new lyric while mashing up references to two past ones:

"If tonight we reach, it won't be for the first time." = "Tonight is the first night, tonight is the last night." + "I am reaching for the sky."

They're saying that they're no strangers to "reaching" for something more, which is evident if you know anything about Hanson's history and past songs. The first verse talks about belonging with the "restless," the "rebels," and the "dreamers." It's vague enough to apply to just about any scenario where people persevere in the face of obstacles because they feel driven by a passion, but I think it fits well with casting them in the company of other musicians who have been cut by the metaphorical rock 'n' roll razorblade. "Only the good die young" is certainly a Billy Joel reference, and I may be reading too much into "Landslide" being a reference to Fleetwood Mac, but it definitely tips me in the direction of interpreting this whole verse as Hanson feeling a kinship with other hardworking artists.

The second verse reminds me the most of that drive to fight in "Feeling Alive" and also has connections to "Reaching For The Sky" with its mention of climbing a ladder despite having reservations. They're not that Broken Angel from pre-Underneath anymore--or rather, they're not going to allow themselves to be defined by it--and they aren't going to let some broken wings stop them from jumping in and giving it everything they've got.

The final chorus is the most reminiscent of "Tonight" with the subtle lyric change from "If tonight we reach, it won't be for the first time" to "But tonight we reach, it might be for the last time." It's a shift from saying "IF we reach" to a more definite "Tonight we reach," but shifts the uncertainty to the outcome. The line "Can't swear we'll still be standing at sunrise" means they know that they might not win, but they think it's worth the fight anyway. Know what else says that? "Tonight I won't stand still, even if we don't survive" and "Don't wait for tomorrow's daylight, 'cause it just might be tonight." And if they don't win? Well, you can't say they didn't give it their all.

One of my favorite parts is the very end when Taylor's singing "I hear you say, let me hear you say it's just you and me and us against the world." Even though it comes after about a dozen repetitions of that title line and might be brushed off as typical Hanson phrasing variation, I can't help but notice that for the first time in the song, it sounds like he's speaking directly to the audience. In all the other choruses it's easy to believe that "It's just you and me and us against the world" might be the band singing to each other; it's Hanson vs. the world. But that ending, that "I hear you say, let me hear you say" feels like tearing down the fourth wall and inviting the audience just like he calls for a lifting of hands and voices in "Feeling Alive." Suddenly we're invited to be part of the "Us," and we're a much larger force to be reckoned with than three guys on their own. It feels like a thanks for sticking by them even when it hasn't been easy and crediting a little bit of their drive to keep going to fans that have done the same.

It also hit me that "you and me and us" is lyrically parallel to "me myself and I" and further highlights the difference between giving up because you're feeling alone and soldiering on when you have someone to fight beside you. I have no idea if that was intentional, but it was a beautiful coincidence if not.

It's a great song worthy of its title track position. If only I didn't need Dramamine to accompany the music video.

P.S. I have no excuse for thinking the first chorus sounds like Wilson Phillips, but it was my first reaction the moment it started playing, and I am here for that sound.