July 20, 2020

Continental Breakfast In Bed: Food For Thought

As someone who runs a blog about traveling to Hanson shows, I’m sure you can understand that 2020 hasn’t given me much material for content. I also enjoy reviewing new music, but there hasn’t been any of that up until now, either. Add in the serious issues going on in the world that are far more important than any fluffy filler post I could possibly write about my top five most amazing Hanson encounters, and you get a blog that hasn’t been updated in five months. Who cares about the time I (insert textbook privileged brag-sounding story from an expensive vacation) while people are hurting, struggling to cope with injustices, and literally dying all around us? And so as you may have noticed, I chose silence. If it’s as loud as some would suggest, then I hope the tone you have heard in it is not one of complacency, blind loyalty, or indifference. I hope you can understand that sometimes silence can be a mode of respect, a personal choice to allow room for things more important than yourself and your own opinions. Sometimes it means discreetly nudging your own soapbox away to allow room for the voices of others to be heard.

And while I’ve struggled these past few weeks with a constant urge to write but something inside telling me that the timing is all wrong, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s okay to embrace the things that make me happy, because we’re all struggling right now for a variety of reasons, and music is one of my favorite coping mechanisms. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you can relate. Hanson has often been that thing to put a smile on my face in darker moments. They’re the song equivalent of a comfort food, the mac & cheese of my musical diet. Logging onto hanson.net this week to see a surprise release of their latest EP put a smile on my face and felt like one piece of normal in world full of crazy. I needed it.

So to serve up another course of normalcy, here’s my review of this year’s Fan Club EP, Continental Breakfast (In Bed).

1. “Dressed in Brown Eyes” is your typical earworm-level catchy Hanson tune. I’ve listened to it maybe four times total and have caught myself humming it several times despite the fact that it’s not my personal favorite of the bunch. The thing that takes it up a notch is the addition of a harmonica part, courtesy of John Fullbright. The lyrics are nothing particularly deep, just an upbeat story of a guy who really wants to be with a girl, and who is possibly implying that his favorite outfit is when she’s wearing nothing but brown eyes. Don’t quote me on that. Maybe it’s a little more G-rated and her eyes are so captivating that they’re all he can see when he looks at her. *sappy gag emoji*

TL;DR: The only part of me that feels moved by “Dressed in Brown Eyes” is my feet, which is a decent place to start.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Straight syrup.

2. “Good Days” is like the followup answer to “Better Days.” Instead of pushing optimism and looking for something better, it’s saying take the time to notice that these are the good days here and now, so you might as well make the most of them while you can. “Don’t let a moment pass you by.” I really like the sound of this one and it feels like summer and outdoors and backyard barbecues to me. Also, I took just enough Spanish classes that I cannot unhear “huevo” every time he says “wave, oh.”

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Cheesy scrambled eggs.

3. “Miss You Like Crazy” is in an epic battle against another song for my favorite of this EP. It’s another surface level love song lyrically, but where “Dressed in Brown Eyes” might be moving my feet, “Miss You Like Crazy” makes me want to jump around and sing loud and put it all on repeat to do it again. I have absolutely nothing of substance to say here except I love the sound of it. I love Isaac’s guitar solo (and how ridiculously proud he looked of himself nailing it in the making-of videos), I love the “oh oh ohs,” and I love the line “you were perfect from the start”—not for the lyrics, but for that melody. The Billy Joel “heart attack-ack-ack” bit seems random, but it works.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: A stack of those Hanson symbol waffles and two shots of your favorite Starbucks drink. Filling, sweet, maybe not all that nutritional, but with a giant sugar rush.

4. “Everyday” is one of those songs I knew was unreleased but sometimes I forget it’s not already on an EP because I’ve heard it live a few times. For that reason, it doesn’t really feel like “new” music to me and I’m struggling to look at it that way, but hearing it fully mixed and with strings added is definitely an improvement over the times I heard it with inappropriately timed shouts and shushing. I love the cello and am curious if Isaac played those parts himself. The way the violin blends with it later in the song feels perfectly symbolic for a wedding song and the joining of two lives. I’m curious what made them decide to release it now and with this particular combination of songs, but I’m glad it finally found its home. It’s not a song that resonates with me personally, but I can appreciate the emotion that went into writing it and the beauty in its simplicity.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: The joining of cereal and milk into one perfectly dependable breakfast dish that you can eat...yes...everyday. With the nutritional value of Raisin Bran, not Cap'n Crunch.

5. My first thought about “Change” was that the title and the lyrics sounded somewhat relevant to current events, but a quick listen to the podcast assured me that while the theme may be applicable to a lot of situations, it was written at least several months to a year ago during the writing of “Against the World.” My second thought was how ironic it is that during that writing period, they wrote both a song called “Change” and a song called “Don’t Ever Change,” which they debuted during the Wintry Mix tour. (My third thought was to laugh out loud at myself because while writing thoughts #1 & #2, I totally blanked on the title of “Against The World” and found myself in some zombie autopilot mode writing the phrase “New Anthem” instead. Going forward, “Against the World” will now be referred to as “New Anthem”).

The truth is I *want* to like this song. The lyrics are fine, parts of it have been catchy enough to pop into my head uninvited, but I really, really don’t like the “oh oh, oh oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh” bits. It feels a little gospel choir-y to me and if you read my review of last year’s EP, then you might remember I just really don’t like that sound.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Cinnamon rolls. Because no matter how good they look and how many other people love them, I just don't have a taste for them.

6. “Begin Again” has the opposite issue of “Dressed in Brown Eyes” for me. The lyrics outrank the sound by quite a bit. Since we don’t have a lyric booklet, I took the time to write down all of the lyrics as I hear them before writing any of this, and I’m so glad that I did. Sonically, “Begin Again” felt very familiar. It reminded me of “Make It Through Today,” “Everyday,” and “Bad For Me” at different moments, and I found myself not listening all that closely to the lyrics because I felt like my brain was labeling it as something I’d already heard before. When I sat down and wrote out the words, I had a moment of wow, I really didn’t get how poignant and meaningful these lyrics are the first two times I listened. If anything on this EP feels like a true reflection on current events, it’s this song. Though I don’t recall "Begin Again" being in any of the “making of” videos to give us an insight into when it was written, I’d wager that it, too, was probably written months ago and that we can thank the power of a good set of vague lyrics for its relatability.

I am curious to see the official lyrics because I spy a homophone and it could be either version and possibly a play on both:

We’ve lived together, we’ve walked alone
No destination, just a struggle to be (won? one?)

TL;DR: Caution: Deep. Flotation device recommended.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Everything bagel with a side of apple juice.

7. All I know is that “All I Know” is top song material. I started this blog with a real fear that it would be two sentences about the first six songs and two novellas about this one. I listened to this EP for the first time on my way home from work with a significant portion of my attention reserved for driving rather than fully focusing on the music. About halfway through this song I found myself crying and then asking myself why I was crying when I wasn’t even sure I’d heard most of the lyrics. I was on day seven of eight in a row and had just finished a nine hour shift, and so I brushed it off and thought maybe that’s really not the best way to absorb emotional new music. I went home. I slept eight hours. I listened to it again the next morning and found myself crying on the way to work, because apparently that is just what this song does.

It’s vague enough that on the surface, plot wise, it doesn’t seem to be about anything in particular. It could literally be about anyone in any time period in a wide variety of situations, but at the heart of this song is a feeling anyone can relate to. It’s about struggling with self-worth and with not living up to one’s potential. It’s beautifully, soul-crushingly bleak. And I’m not sure there’s any Hanson lyric in existence quite as heart wrenching as the line:

“I’m done with living in the past
Anything I’ve done that’s good I doubt will ever last”

(The next line may be just as profound, but in true Taylor fashion, I can’t quite make it all out).

I am so awed by the ability to pair a couple of piano chords and well-chosen words to craft such a perfect replica of a feeling into a song that one moment I can be driving and feeling fine, and the next I’m transported to this place of anguish that suddenly feels like it’s mine. That’s the power of great music.

It makes me feel almost the same way the song “Top of the World” by the Chicks does. I may have to file it in the same drawer, right next to “I Lift You Up” and Relient K’s “Deathbed.” That drawer’s labeled “Don’t go there, but bring tissues if you do.”

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Gourmet omelet with a double side of bacon, grapefruit, and black coffee. Caution: load up on napkins; you're going to need them.

Additional Thoughts:

This EP ranges from light and fluffy and syrupy sweet to dark abyss levels of deep. The track list also seems to be in ascending order of seriousness from start to finish and makes for a smooth transitional flow between each song. Apart from my silly breakfast food analogies, I really see no connection between the songs and the E.P. title and think Hanson must have abandoned the original plan to have a song for each continent, unless they only ever meant that in a strictly numerical sense. It really makes no difference to the songs and their meaning to me, but I'm up for hearing an explanation if one exists.

I'll spare you any further hungry and now I'm full gag-inducing food analogies, but for what it's worth, I've been looking forward to new music and am happy to finally have this taste to tide me over until "New Anthem." You're probably already a fan club member if you've bothered reading this far, but in case you need to hear this, the membership now includes a digital download option which means you can renew or join right now and be listening to the new E.P. within minutes. Maybe it will brighten your day, too.

Months ago when we first started quarantining and places went into lockdown, there was a lot of positive encouragement to “wash your hands,” “practice social distancing,” and “check on your friends.” I don’t see as much of that last one anymore, but I think this is where I'd like to wind things up, even if it's a bit off topic. So whether you’re one of my close friends, an acquaintance I’ve interacted with in line or online, or someone reading a random girl's blog on the internet, I hope you’re doing okay. Whether we share all the same opinions or have nothing in common but a love for music, I wish you the best in navigating 2020, this year of dumpster fires, travel bans, and making plans for the future. I hope you're finding your own moments of happiness whether it's a song, a book that takes you away, or a ridiculous long distance midnight conversation about what type of breakfast food a bunch of songs would be.