June 4, 2017

In Color: 2017 EP Review

Disclaimer: If you haven't had time to listen to In Color and form your own opinions, you probably shouldn't read this yet. And if you want to continue to listen to these songs and enjoy them all at face value without overanalyzing some aspects, well, you probably shouldn't read this ever. But if you're a nerd like me that can't help but look a little deeper? Read on.


Full disclosure: half of the reason I love watching Hanson's livestreams is following and participating in the live Twitter commentary with other fans. It warms my introverted nerd heart that it's possible to debate a song you haven't actually heard yet with someone you may or may not have met that is probably experiencing morning while you're about to go to bed for the night. Welcome to the internet in 2017.

My immediate reaction to the first livestreamed clips we heard of this song was that the guitar part in the chorus reminded me a lot of "Let My Love Open The Door." Someone else picked up on "Take My Breath Away" vibes, and there was a lot of agreement all around on both counts. I'm glad in the end that the final product sounds a little less like both of these and a bit more like Hanson.

It's an upbeat song with a fun twist on your average girl-next-door storyline where the girl grows up to be a famous musician. It's told from the perspective of the boy that loved her when "the world was much younger" and they were still "Daydream believers." I kind of like that you don't get to know much about the boy in the song. Is he a musician himself? Did he go away to school and become a doctor? It doesn't really matter, because for the purpose of the song, he's the same guy that fell in love with a girl back before either one of them was "somebody."

What it sounds like: "Let My Love Open the Door" meets "Take My Breath Away"

Favorite Lyric: "Head in the future, heart in Oklahoma, that's the girl I always knew."

During the Hanson Day concert this year, Zac said something to the effect of "We all talked about it and agreed that this is the whitest Hanson album we've ever made. And if you don't know what that means, I'll tell you when you're older." I took it as an obvious Beatles reference, albeit an ironic one considering this year's EP title. (Sounds like a missed subtitle opportunity. In Color: The Whitest Album Yet.) I'm an average Beatles fan at best and can't relate anything to specific albums or eras, but even I can tell you this is the most Beatles-sounding song Hanson has ever written.

Also, because the English teacher gene never dies:

Ghostwriter : The Beatles :: Do You Believe In Love : Queen.

And as for the meaning of the song? Total speculation of course, but it makes me wonder what mainstream hit songs out there in the world Hanson may have written for someone else that we'll never know about.

What it sounds like: If Zac got a time machine and somehow scored a co-writing session with The Beatles for Digital Pants.

Favorite Lyric: "Skeletons are currency." Word nerd alert. I love that this line makes a clear point using three fairly common words that have probably never been used together in the English language before.

If you sent me off to a Hanson show with no knowledge of this song and they played it, I'd probably assume they were playing some obscure Beatles song that I hadn't heard before. Even the title is reminiscent of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" (though I have to admit, the organ during the "if you're lost without a trace" part feels more like The Doors' "Light My Fire" to me). I swear I don't set out to hear every new Hanson song in the context of some older song that has already been done, but something about this EP just feels very fun and retro and I can't help looking back at a few great oldies and seeing similarities. There are worse things to be compared to.

What it sounds like: The Beatles, The Doors, screaming girls, and orange shag carpet.

Favorite Lyric: I just like that they managed to basically rhyme every "-eaver" word in existence throughout the entire song.

This song has "fan anthem" written all over it. The lyrics are simple, but they do an excellent job of capturing the feeling of being in your happy place surrounded by good company. Just about anybody can relate, whether you're the performer, the fan, or even just a couple of friends having drinks at their usual table in a local bar. For me, almost every line reminds me of what it's like to jump in a car and follow a tour. There's lost sleep and uncertainties and trying to hang onto memories with friends. It's the closest thing they've ever written to my own favorite travel anthem, Andrew McMahon's "I Woke Up In A Car." The songs don't sound alike or even have similar lyrics, but they make me feel the same thing. "I Don't Want To Go Home" is definitely my favorite from this year's EP.

The line "It ain't no secret where we've come from, so we wear our history like a badge of honor" makes me think of Hanson frequently being asked if they're tired of playing "MMMBop." Their answer always includes the fact that it's an undeniable part of their story, and they still play it proudly because it has helped shape where they are today. They totally wear it like a badge of honor, but I don't think it's meant to be exclusively about Hanson. I think it's just saying whoever you are and whatever it is that you do--own it.

Those who have been to Tulsa can probably appreciate the shoutout to Caz's at the end, but it may not be the same Caz's you're thinking of. Most fans are familiar with Caz's Chowhouse, but directly across the street is a separate hole-in-the-wall bar also called Caz's. It's small and loud and has about a hundred bras hanging from a wall fixture that may have been deer antlers at one time, and trust me, it sits in perfect juxtaposition next to Carnegie Hall in the lyrics.

What it sounds like: A happy, rebellious response to Semisonic's "Closing Time."

Favorite Lyric (okay, verse): "Six hours 'til I'm at work, four hours 'til I'm in bed. Trying to capture each moment like a picture in my head. God only knows all the places I'll see."

Don't worry, there's no risk of me trying to compare this one to the greatest hits of the '60s because it doesn't really sound like anything I've ever heard. The breathy sounding percussion in the background is Taylor doing some rhythmic heavy breathing, and I think the melody is best described as someone on Twitter said: haunting.

It definitely follows Zac's self-professed tendency to write deep and somewhat dark lyrics. The subject matter reminds me of "Siren Call" in that it sounds like it comes from a person who knows what it’s like to care about someone suffering from depression, or maybe watching someone go down all the wrong paths. It's told from the perspective of someone that obviously wants to offer support and be there for this person, and it's packed with dense lyrics that I'm not sure any of us will ever fully understand, but the desire to love and support this person in their time of need comes across loud and clear.

I think the most powerful part of the song is the bridge going into the chorus:

"When the darkness comes and you're lying in bed surrounded by voices like the voices in your head, you will never need to despair, I will be here."

The verses leading up to this point are in this sort of dissonant minor key and leave my ears longing for some kind of harmonic resolution. There's a noticeable change in the tone after this line, and all of those harsh corners start to soften into an almost soothing sound with the "ooohs" in the chorus. Haunting, yes, but almost like a dark lullaby. And with the image of someone lying in bed, maybe that's exactly what this is: a melancholy lullaby of reassurance to a struggling loved one. “I weep for you” in this context might be the saddest Hanson lyric I’ve ever heard.

The song never reconciles that unsettling sound, but I think it’s a beautiful stylistic choice meant to reflect the subject matter. I also think it’s worth noticing that if you listen closely, the song ends with an extra sigh that is not part of the breathy percussion (around 4:36), which again, I think speaks volumes without actually saying a word. I’m really impressed with how well this song depicts the difficulty of watching someone you love struggle not only with a mixture of lamenting and uplifting words, but with some perfectly erie and unique sounds. What started out as my skip song has certainly gained a lot of respect from me after a closer look.

TL;DR? In Lisa's words, it's hauntingly beautiful.

What it sounds like: The super dark, adult version of "I Will Come To You."

Favorite Lyric: "I'd water flowers with tears of joy if crying eyes would bring you home."

Full disclosure: The above is my initial interpretation of "I Lift You Up." Since posting this blog, I have had a few people message me their different interpretations privately (yes, please! Always feel free to do this), and it was like a giant lightbulb went off in my head. Then I found a great blog post explaining that same theory. It feels a little dishonest of me to change my original review, so I won't. I'm leaving my initial interpretation as-is and I think it still fits, but I would also like to share with you another perspective that I think is spot-on. If you're open to religious interpretations, click here to check out Paola's review.