May 30, 2022

Red Green Blue: An Album Review

This may be the longest blog post I have ever written, but I am so grateful to be weighed down by the burden of too many new Hanson songs at one time. It's the best problem to have, really.

I always struggle with writing music reviews because I can analyze lyrics and word choice all day long, but I don't have the right vocabulary or music background to discuss the sound, the instruments, the arrangements, the production, etc., at a similar level. Writing has always been such a powerful outlet for me because I often feel like I'm able to put exactly how I feel into words, and it's a very liberating feeling. Even just tackling this post, I feel like I already appreciate several of these songs more now that I've sat down and put feelings into words that I honestly didn't know I had until I was writing them down.

The flip side, though, is it can be very frustrating when I don't have the words, and music is one of those downfalls for me. It's strange to be able to listen to a song and form opinions about what parts I love and what parts I don't but not having the words to express them beyond a basic "I like how this sounds" or "I don't like how this sounds." As a result, this turned out to be a very lyric-heavy review more about song meanings than sound. I've been careful to avoid reading other fans' opinions and reviews, so if there are any similarities here, it's because obviously we're right and not because I borrowed anyone else's theories 😉. I can't wait to dive right in to what others think about the album as soon as I hit publish.

Song: 1. Child At Heart

What It Sounds Like: An inner-voice pep talk

Favorite Lyric: "You can just breathe / You are no mistake"

My Interpretation: We've heard enough in interviews about this one as the first single that I don't need to pretend I'm having any original thoughts about the meaning. "Child At Heart" is about holding onto the kind of innate optimism and hope that children have rather than letting the world beat you down and make you jaded.

What I will add from my own two cents, though, if you care to follow me down a rabbit hole, is that the line "you can chase a star" makes me think of the boy from "Reaching For The Sky." I don't know if the star imagery was an intentional allusion to String Theory or if I'm doing a bit of reaching myself, but I really like that you could read the lyrics of "Child At Heart" like they're advice to that optimistic boy who never stops reaching even when others try to tell him it's not worth it. Maybe the guy in the CAH music video is that boy all grown up giving himself a pep talk trying to hold onto that perspective he had as a child so that he can continue seeing the best in the world. Commence conspiracy theory-level conjecture, but I love making that connection even if Taylor didn't put it there intentionally.

Red Ranking: 2/5

Song: 2. Rambling Heart

What It Sounds Like: Tom Petty's "Wildflowers"

Favorite Lyric: "Wherever I go is my home sweet home/ Every note is my home sweet home"

My Interpretation: This is a love song to music and travel about feeling at home in the middle of both. It's obviously written from the perspective of a musician who has grown up on the road writing music, but I really like it because the same can apply to a fan like me who also feels at home in some place I've never been listening to a song that feels like home no matter where I'm hearing it.

For years, my bio on hnet said "I like to ramble, both geographically and verbally. Join me some time" and included a link to this blog. I liked the play on the word "ramble" because it has two definitions and can apply to both writing and traveling, and I think the same concept applies to this song. Taylor (and Hanson) certainly has a rambling heart with a drive to share his words and his music all over the world, and--cheese alert--I'm happy to report every note IS my home sweet home.

Red ranking: 1/5

Song: 3. Truth

What It Sounds Like: A poetic semi-spoken word folk song

Favorite Lyric: "So don’t hold on to bitter, it’ll come home to roost"

My Interpretation: "Truth" describes a strained relationship of some kind that has seen better days and a desire for resolution through honesty. It's vague enough that it feels universal and could apply to anyone--a romantic relationship, best friends, family members, even a musician and his fans.

The thing I really like about it is if you pay attention to the lyrics, the speaker/narrator of the song never actually places blame on anyone even though I think the human inclination is to do exactly that. Each time he mentions something the other person does wrong, he follows it up with another line that faults himself equally ("Cause I drive you crazy every other word that I say/ But I feel like you’ve been pushing me away"). And his suggestion that they need a little bit of truth? It's not clear if he means truth from himself or truth from the other person. It could easily be an angry song demanding answers with lines like "You owe me the truth," or a song about guilt that says "I need to tell you the truth," but it's neither, and I think the implication is that the only way to move forward is if BOTH parties come clean.

The song also doesn't make clear whether the end goal is to fix the relationship and stay in it, or if the "truth" is that it's time to let it go and move on. Sometimes the little bit of truth that we all need is simply being honest with ourselves, and with lines about bringing "peace" and being "set free," I think it could just as easily be read as a song about admitting the truth to yourself so that you can move on from a relationship that's no longer working. With lines like "we might miss what's still left from today" I think the overall vibe is a little bit more hopeful than that, but it leaves you with a strong sense that you don't know what the resolution is yet, but the only way to figure it out is to face the truth.

Red Ranking: 5/5

Song: 4. We Belong Together

What It Sounds Like: Andrew McMahon's newer stuff 

Favorite Lyric: "All this living has been taking your life"

My Interpretation: It doesn't sound a thing like "Carry You There" musically, but I think the message is the same. It's a song about recognizing when someone you care about is struggling and offering them support even if they're not up to fighting for themselves. It doesn't specifically mention mental health, but I think there is still a sense of awareness for it that suggests being observant and receptive to the people around us and making sure that they know you are a part of their support system. I chose "All this living has been taking your life" as my favorite lyric because I think it's a poetically tragic way to describe depression, but I also love the positivity in the line "You don't have to break alone/ You don't have to break, we can build something better."

Red Ranking: 4/5

Song: 5. Semi Hollow

What It Sounds Like: George Michael, Hall & Oates, and Taylor Hanson walk into a guitar shop...

Favorite Lyric: "Here downtown, standing in the ballroom now /You’re the one turning me on, while they have been posing/You and I were closing"

RGB Misheard Lyric Award: 
What Taylor said: You're damn sure fun to play.
What I heard at the listening party:  Redemption from the plague. (#foreshadowing)

My Interpretation: I don't know a ton about guitars, but it's impossible to miss that this song is basically a love song to one. Instead of being completely straightforward, the lyrics are written in this clever ambiguous way where it could also be a love song to a girl, albeit one who gets around and isn't all that deep. "All my friends, they know that you get around," "I know that I could turn you down," "You sure are fun to play/I can't stop turning you on" etc. For almost every line, you can ask yourself "Is it a girl, or is it a guitar?" and the lyrics fit for both.

As for my favorite lyric, I chose the lines above because they are the most perfectly ambiguous and potentially misleading part of the song. To anyone not familiar with Hanson or their hometown, those particular lines sound more like they're about a girl and it's harder to make the guitar connection. "Here downtown, standing in the ballroom now /You’re the one turning me on, while they have been posing/You and I were closing". The surface level image is of a guy standing in a ballroom at a dance with a girl that he's wildly attracted to, and he's writing off the other people in the room as posers while his relationship is real. But if you know Hanson and Tulsa? That ballroom downtown might be Cain's, the posers are other musicians, and he and his beloved guitar are the real deal.

Is it a deep song? Nah. But it sure is fun to play...and yes, I DO enjoy the way it resonates.

Red Ranking: 2/5 Yes, it's tied with Child At Heart.

Song: 6. Greener Pastures

What It Sounds Like: Joshua and the Holy Rollers...oh wait.

(Least) Favorite Lyric: I WANT to like "effervescent hues," I really do. I'm all for unique word pairings and creative descriptions, and this one is certainly inventive. Unfortunately, the usage is just not quite right to my ear, and I can practically hear someone asking "What does that line mean, though?" and being met with "I don't know man, but doesn't it sound cool?"

My Interpretation: I have to be honest. I had mentally turned this one into a skip song before I ever even heard it just based on the fact that it was a cover. That's probably unfair and dismissive of me, but it's an involuntary reaction that I can't alter no matter how much I rationally know that it's okay for 1/15 of the album to be a cover written by a blood relative that also has musical talent. That being said, it's not a bad song, it just isn't a HANSON song, and while it does sound good, I can't really make the lyrics mean anything to me. Sorry, bros! It gets points for being the first song to include all four Hanson brothers, and I'm sure they had a great time working on it together. Maybe it will grow on me.

Green Ranking: 5/5

Song: 7. Write You A Song

What It Sounds Like: A fun-filled summer day.

Favorite Lyric: "I see blue skies, sunrise, dandelions and conversations"

My Interpretation: This song needs no explanation; it's exactly what it sounds like--a song from a loving Dad to his little girl so that she'll always have something to remember their good memories together. It's super sweet and fun sounding, and it makes me just a little bit sad and jealous that I'll never have something so sweet to remember my own Dad. I'm sure Isaac's daughter loves it and will probably appreciate it even more when she's older.

Obligatory conspiracy theory connection to a past Hanson song: I can't help but smile a little bit at the line "You're my Oklahoma daisy" while thinking of 16-year-old Isaac singing about planting seeds and wondering what flower is going to grow. Twenty five years later, we have our answer: he's been growing a daisy!

Green Ranking: 2/5

Song: 8. No Matter The Reason

What It Sounds Like: Isaac Hanson gone country

Favorite Lyric: "God has made no better good than you for me"

My Interpretation: I've seen a few comments accusing this song of supporting the idea of staying in a toxic relationship, but I'm going to give Isaac the benefit of the doubt and assume that the perspective of this song is coming from someone who has never dealt with a true deal-breaker scenario in their relationship. I know he's saying he's staying "no matter the reason," but surely we can read an implied asterisk into it and take it as "*No matter the reason" with the understanding that of course there is an implied footnote full of toxic reasons to run far, far away and never look back--they're just not in this song. He's not condoning staying with an abuser; he's writing about not giving up when things get hard. He's talking about sticking around because the love you have for someone is bigger and stronger than the conflicts. It's an emotionally raw song that I can't personally relate to, but I can appreciate the guts it took to put it into a song and release it to the world.

Green Ranking: 3/5

Song: 9. The Gift Of Tears

What It Sounds Like: Isaac Hanson gone Contemporary Christian.

Favorite Lyric: "When all hope is dead and gone, pray on."

My Interpretation: Hanson doesn't often put overly religious messages into their songs, but I can't do enough mental gymnastics to make this one about anything other than seeking forgiveness and grace from God. The opening verse talks about a wedding "between your heart and your soul" and a time for new beginnings which sounds like a pretty effective description of salvation to me. The urgency behind "Pray it up, pray it down/ Get down on your knees, brother and kiss the ground/ We could be gone tomorrow, this life ain’t free" expresses a need to share this "gift" with others, and I think the "gift of tears" is really the emotional response to being given the gift of forgiveness and salvation. To me, this song is a profession of faith and a desire to share it with others.

Green Ranking: 4/5

Song: 10. Cold As Ice

What It Sounds Like: funk (n.)- : music that combines elements of rhythm and blues and soul music and that is characterized by a percussive vocal style, static harmonies, and a strong bass line with heavy downbeats

Favorite Lyric: "I'm a human jukebox, I play all the hits"

My Interpretation: This song is the #1 reason in this post that I wish I had a better music vocabulary because it has such a fun groove to it that I can't really describe. It brings back a little bit of the upbeat vibe that feels lacking in this album compared to others. As for what this song means, it's a fun kind of snarky/tongue-in-cheek description of a flawed but feisty and attractive woman. There are a lot of clever lyrics and turns of phrases here, and "She pawns my watches to buy me time" is an easy runner-up for my favorite line. However, I am at a total loss and cannot make sense of "every single word she says is frozen twice." What does this mean??

Green Ranking: 2/5. I realize my ranking system is flawed and I didn't choose a #1 for Green, but I can't and I don't have to.

Song: 11. Bad

What It Sounds Like: Angry synthesizers

Favorite Lyric: "The tight rope is frayed and it's wearing me thin." Hello there, allusion to "The Walk."

My Interpretation: My first reaction to hearing "Bad" at the listening party is that it must be in reaction to some of the backlash that Hanson and Zac have received over the last couple of years, but I think it could also apply to pretty much any situation where you feel wrongly judged by someone else. It's calling out that unfair judgment ("so many things you can't tell from just the scars on my skin") and the draw that some people seem to have towards conflict ("moth to the flame").

The line about not "measuring men by colors and flags" feels a bit cryptic, but what I get out of it is that you shouldn't judge someone based on what they look like, where they come from, or what labels they identify with. I'm a little stuck on the line "no one can change the worth of a life," but maybe it just means you can't devalue someone's life no matter what you think of them; no matter what you perceive them to have done wrong, they're still human. I think the interesting thing about this song is that as often is the case with any conflict, you could probably read these same lyrics from the opposing perspective and find that they feel the exact same way.

Blue Ranking: 5/5

Song: 12. World Goes Around

What It Sounds Like: Robert Frost, but make it Hanson.

Favorite Lyric: "Even the sun goes down"

My Interpretation: Time marches on. Good things can't last forever, but by that same logic, bad things can't either. It's up to you to be the optimist or the pessimist in how you choose to view the world and any given situation. "All we can do is endeavor/ to live by nothing bad can last for ever/ all our days." TL;DR Nothing gold can stay, but it's probably better to focus on the fact that the bad days can't stay either.

Blue Ranking: 4/5

Song: 13. Wake Up

What It Sounds Like: "The Circle of Life" meets "The Neverending Story" theme.

Favorite Lyric: "Would it change a thing to learn that you’re not real?"

My Interpretation:  The lyrics start out making you think that maybe the main character is just separated from his love by physical distance--"When you're not with me you're still always on my mind/ And you feel so close even when we're far apart." Maybe she's just away on a trip? But then you get lines like "Wherever you are" and "Every night I'm waiting just to learn your name" that make it clear that he hasn't actually met her yet. He's spending his time dreaming up this perfect girl that may or may not actually exist in real life, and it's both hopeful and depressing. "Why do you keep me waiting/When you know how I feel" suggests a belief that he has a soulmate out there who is dreaming of him in the exact same way, just two people separated by circumstance who are waiting for the moment where fate brings them together.

But then there's the saddest line of all: "Would it change a thing/To learn that you’re not real/." It makes me think of the way some people view religion as this empty emotional crutch, just a thing you choose to blindly believe in without proof because it's easier to do life if you have something good to believe in. That's not my belief, but I can understand the perspective and I think that's exactly how he's treating this dream girl. He's choosing to believe she exists and that one day they will be together, and it leaves us with a final question: Does it even matter if she's real as long as the idea of her existence keeps giving him hope and making him happy?

TL;DR: "Wake Up" is "Dream Girl" reimagined with a mild existential crisis.

Update June 1st: My mind is blown right now. Some fabulous anon in the comments bulldozed my theory with a single insightful sentence, and I'm kicking myself for not seeing it. I'm not going to alter my above interpretation because I do think it still fits and I don't want to take credit for a perspective that went right over my head, but please check out the comments section below for an alternate take that I think is probably right. 

Blue Ranking: 2/5

Song: 14. Don't Let Me Down

What It Sounds Like: Zac Hanson was tasked with writing "Eye of the Tiger" in 2022

Favorite Lyric: "No one can stop you until you decide that you're done"

My Interpretation: I don't need an interpretation because Zac has already told us that this song was written about the challenge of sitting down and tackling this album concept. He knew he had to handle the pressure of creating something worthy of a world release and not letting himself or his brothers down, so he wrote a song about just that. I know I already called "Child at Heart" an inner pep talk, but where that one is more of a subtle reassurance, this inner voice is screaming at you in sweat bands while asking you to drop and give it 20. Welcome to Zac Hanson tells Zac Hanson not to let himself down. Jokes aside, it's a totally universal song that you can apply to any situation where you need motivation to complete something that you know you're capable of. #dogobe

Blue Ranking: 3/5

Song: 15. Where I Belong

What It Sounds Like: The opening and/or closing scene of a musical theatre production that I want front row tickets to.

Favorite lyric: "Somewhere under the rainbow far away"

RGB Misheard Lyric Runner-Up: 
What Zac said: So that I can trade bitter tears for honey (honey honey honey honey)
What I heard at the listening party: Yummy yummy yummy yummy. Cue instant Edible Digital Pants flashbacks. And The Wiggles.

My interpretation: This is the most trippy theatrical sounding song Hanson has ever produced, and I love it for that. It has a longing to belong and find your place in the world, but I also see bits and pieces of religion in it as well, though much more subtle than in the Green segment. Think "E.T. phone home" but where E.T. is a prodigal son and "home" is definitely celestial, but we're not talking about another planet. My strongest argument for this interpretation is the line "Take me from this place/ So that I can trade bitter tears for honey (honey)." I'm not saying he's asking to be swept away in a chariot of fire straight up to heaven, but Biblically, the promised land is described as a land of milk and "honey," and I've already expressed my opinion that Isaac's "gift of tears" is actually the gift of salvation, so combine them into a single line and recurring images of weeping, and I feel decently convinced that this song can be read as a desperate prayer for deliverance from feeling lost in the world.

Despite having said that I'm not saying it's about wanting to go straight up to heaven...the very end of the song has me rethinking that statement. The final lines are so incredibly heavy:

And I weep
Hoping someone will hear me call
From where I belong
And take me

There is so much pain in that statement, and if he's hoping that someone from where he belongs (aka heaven) hears him calling, I can't hear it as anything but a cry out to God to be taken "home." In some ways it's a little like "MMMBop" in that among images of rainbows and happy sounds there's actually a deeply depressing undertone. 

Blue Ranking: 1/5

P.S. For what it's worth, I changed every Blue ranking at least once and almost caved and just ranked them all as 3/5 for lack of a better solution. I am not built to pick favorites unless it comes to choosing a favorite band. I've got that one covered.

May 23, 2022

Hanson Day 2022

I'm not sure how cutting out Hop Jam left me feeling busier than ever, but maybe two years off from a traditional Hanson Day just has me out of practice. HDay 2022 was back in full swing with all of the in-person events that have been missed in Tulsa since 2019 as well as keeping plenty of virtual content for those enjoying from home. See Exhibit A below. There's no free space on this bingo card.

For me, the event kicked off with the HTP live event which was Hanson's first time recording a podcast in front of a live audience. I suspect that a regular HTP episode must have a lot more outtakes and editing, but they did all of this one in one take. There was a live trivia game where both contestants hilariously ended up coming up wearing overalls and butterfly clips (thanks, 90s Karaoke!), and there were two reporters who shared the interview instead of just one. They did a great job with their questions and everything ran smoothly. The one quote that stuck in my mind from the whole thing was at the end when they somehow got on the topic of Zac and Taylor skydiving during the "I Was Born" era, and Isaac's perfectly-timed comedic input was "And I said to them, 'Well, someone needs to be alive." Good looking out, Isaac. Keep those royalties safe.

We also learned that the accessory equivalent of their pessimist/optimist/realist makeup is fannypack/murse/chain wallet if you've ever needed that mental image.

Karaoke was a blast as usual and I thought the 90s theme was particularly fun with all of the themed outfits that showed up. One of the best moments of the night had to be the woman that absolutely SLAYED "Shoop." Isaac joined her on stage but mostly just watched in awe like the rest of us. Rumor has it she was part of a group that showed up at doors and randomly bought a membership just because karaoke sounded fun; they weren't even there for Hanson (if you're reading this, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, elaborate, tell us how you got to be so awesome, etc.). Imagine leaving a bar with your friends just wandering around looking for the next good time on your Thursday evening only to randomly wind up schooling Isaac Hanson on "Shoop." It's the kind of story that will leave people asking exactly how much you had to drink last night and begging for video evidence. Thankfully, there's plenty.

The next morning I showed up in pouring rain for the first RGB Listening Party. In theory, there's something special about being in a room with the first people to ever hear a new album in full. In practice, people talked too much and there was way too much bass for no reason. Maybe it was partly due to where I chose to sit (on a bench built into the wall rather than in a free-standing chair), but feeling my entire body jiggling in rhythm to the bass on "Write You A Song" of all songs is not an experience I needed. My biggest takeaway was that even without hearing all that well, I could tell that "Rambling Heart" was going to be lyrical gold, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the album in a quiet room with lyrics in hand. I wrote exactly four notes on a sheet of paper in the dark before I gave up because the visibility was even worse than the sound. They were:

"Wherever I goe is my home sweet home" (yes, I spelled "go" wrong. It was dark and loud.)
Track 3 = Taylor as Isaac
5. George Michael
Zac song 4? 5? = "In My Room" vibes

I'll save further RGB thoughts for a future post when I've had the album for longer than 30 seconds.

Bowling was fun but doesn't really make good blog material, and the same usually goes for the Dance Party, but this one warrants a few sentences. We actually got two dance parties...sort of. A technical glitch shortly into his DJ set had Taylor sending us to bed early Friday night with promises of a redo following the concert on Saturday. People took the decades theme seriously and I loved seeing everything from 60s flower crowns to Britney Spears and Ginger Spice costumes in the crowd. I went for 90s and got told I looked like I walked out of a Babysitters' Club book, which is honestly the highest form of praise 90s me could have ever hoped for while living out her best life at a party hosted by Taylor Hanson. Dream big, kids. You never know whose hometown nostalgia party you'll wind up at in 25 years cosplaying your former self.

The side events were fun, but let's talk about the real reason we all go back every year: the concerts. We were told at some point before the event that the Hanson Day Concert would be the first official show of the Red Green Blue tour. It was surprisingly more geared towards singles and a journey through Hanson's career than it felt focused on RGB or Against The World. It was a lot of fun and felt more like a "real" concert with big energy after the calmer acoustic set from Storytellers, but I think Zac(?) was right when he made a comment during HTP about how the setlist might feel similar to the MOE tour concept. It hit on each album including String Theory with Taylor's "Reaching For The Sky" solo and only included a few songs from RGB and ATW. Only time will tell if this was representative of a standard setlist for this tour or if they were holding back a bit since the album still wasn't released at the time. The best similarity to the MOE tour, though? It was satisfyingly long and felt like it was never going to end. (P.S. "Don't Let Me Down" live is great, even without the shorts and muscles. Or maybe BECAUSE it's without the shorts and muscles 😛.)

If you were there or followed along online, you probably already know why I've saved the Storytellers part for last. The setlist was amazing even without the one showstopper this is leading up to. "Stories" always gives me heart eyes, "Tonight" is one of my favorite Hanson songs period, "Watershed" was totally random and has only been played once at BTTI in 2014, and I haven't heard "Money" in 14 years. You can check out the setlist on Hansonstage for a list of 20 reasons to experience FOMO, and the reason at the top of that list is the one song I never though I'd hear them play. That's right, they played BOOMERANG. 

If you've been in this fan base for more than five minutes, you know that we are a group hungry for rares. For better or for worse, if you give us a choice, we are going to pick the song we have never heard over the song we actually like. What I mean to say--as politely as possible--is that while I am all for diversifying setlists and growing my own catalogue of heard songs, sometimes the rare choice is not the best musical choice. Thrown into a regular show, "bing bang, you hit me like a boomerang" is likely to set off about 40 fangirl screams of recognition and 700 "WTF is this, I'm going to the bar"s. But this was not a regular show, and we were all glued to what was unfolding in front of us. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the story, that "MMMBop" was born out of "Boomerang," but I never expected to hear the way those puzzle pieces fit together. I always thought if I heard it live, there'd be a certain level of cringe, but it was actually really good. The harmonies were tight, the melding with the "MMMBop" chorus was really cool to hear, and Taylor delivered the line "I've seen girls of all shapes and sizes, but baby since I met you, you're the only one for me" like a 39-year-old straight-faced hero. Move aside, 90s nostalgia costumes, because Taylor Hanson owned the best throwback of the week.

I don't have any great outtakes or anecdotes to end this post with. Somehow, all my flights were on time, I didn't wind up in any petty line arguments, and nobody pulled me on stage or awarded me any trophies. None of my friends experienced a diva moment and rushed the stage at the end of karaoke, and I definitely didn't spontaneously extend my stay by a day only to come home with track 12 from The Walk. (we're playing three truths and two lies, here, btw)

The climax of the trip was Boomerang, which is ironic considering we were there to celebrate a brand new album and not a 27-year-old one, but what can I say? We recognize epic when we see it, and I promise to write a post just as enthusiastic as this one if they make me wait another three decades to hear "Where We Belong" for the first time. With a new tour coming up, I really hope they don't.