December 28, 2021

BTTI Essentials: A Packing List

Today's procrastination technique: writing about packing instead of actually packing. May my past fails be your future successes. If you're headed to the next Back To the Island or are considering going at a later date, here are a few things you should bring that may not make your regular packing list:

1. A pen you can easily reach mid-flight. You'll have to fill out a customs card before you land, and airlines don't provide enough pens for each passenger. If you don't bring your own, you'll have to awkwardly wait to borrow one from a stranger, and that's even less exciting during a pandemic.

Greetings from 2023! This form is entirely digital now. Enjoy not scrambling to borrow a germy pen.

The good news is if you're referencing this list while packing, you're probably right on time to fill out the newly digitized customs form instead of deciding which pen to bring. It's called a C5 form, and you should ONLY use the following link:

This is the direct link listed in the Island Gigs app and comes from the official Jamaican government website.

I did some lazy Googling to find the link at first, and I landed on two different official looking websites that both mentioned a processing or application fee. There isn't one, so please don't fall for this scam! 

2. An offline copy of your return flight details.

You have to fill out a form before you can board the bus to the resort, and one of the questions is your return flight number and flight time. Every year I act like this is new information and then scramble to track it down somewhere in my phone without the benefit of airport wifi, because there is none. Save yourself the trouble and write it down or have screenshots.

3. Plenty of small bills for tipping. Yes, it's all-inclusive, but tips are appreciated and often expected even though they're not required. As for currency, if you have American money and don't plan on leaving the resort, don't bother exchanging. USD is welcome and is also preferred over credit cards in the gift shops.

4. A folder to pack your autographed photo in for the trip home. Unless you like creases.

5. A few Ziploc bags big enough for wet swimsuits/clothing for the trip home. It's humid in Jamaica. The wet thing you took off yesterday is not going to be dry today.

6. Basic first aid supplies and medicines. Bandaids, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Nyquil, Benadryl, etc. Anything medical that you MIGHT need, pack it. If you have to track any down once you arrive, you either won't find it at all, or you'll pay 5x what you would have paid if you brought it with you. 

7. Shoes you can wear in the water. The beach at the Jewel is less rocky than the Melia, but there are a few areas in the water with pointy rocks and sea urchins (particularly at the small cove beach). You don't really have to wear shoes in the water, but step with caution if you don't.

All I'm saying is if you don't pack #7, definitely bring #6.

Bonus TMI: It's not that common, but I've known more than one person to contract hookworms in their feet from going barefoot at past BTTIs. Don't let that scare you away from taking your shoes off, but I would avoid walking shoeless in the grass or even being barefoot for extended periods of time in the sand. You can blame the cute cats that roam freely around the resort with some innate cat instinct to identify sand as their litter box.

8. Bug spray. Some people swear it's unnecessary and that they never get bitten at BTTI, but I can definitely remember itchy ankles after shows when I forgot to put any on. It's not an issue during the day, but as soon as the sun starts going down, I swap out sunscreen for bug spray. A friend getting bitten in the face by a mosquito and having to show up to photo day with a swollen eye is also enough of a cautionary tale to keep it on my packing list (and my body) indefinitely.

9. One light-weight layering piece just in case it's windy or cool at night. If you're from some cold place that wears shorts when it's 55 degrees (F) out, you can probably skip this one. Fellow southerners, you're welcome.

10. Less clothing. I overpacked SO MUCH that I never wore the first year. Every person has their own style and preferences, so pack for your own comfort zone, but I quickly found that my happy place is swimsuits under a coverup or a summer dress. That's it. No pants. One pair of shorts that I may or may not actually wear. No more than four pairs of shoes including my water shoes and whatever I wore on the plane. If you want to go carry-on only, it's doable with a little work.

P.S. Don't forget to leave space to bring home any souvenirs you might want as well as your merchandise package which always includes a towel and a t-shirt. Also, don't pack toy water guns because they'll cause an embarrassing misunderstanding about firearms and get confiscated by Immigration...but that's another story.

Happy packing! Feel free to leave a comment with your own packing essentials.

November 12, 2021

Against The World Release

It's official. Hanson's latest album/project/controversially labeled collection of songs, Against The World, is finally out in full. I tried to get on board with the unique release format and honor the band's wishes of giving each song the spotlight for a month by posting a separate blog about each, but I'm admitting defeat here in the 11th hour with the final two songs. I don't have it in me to write two full blog posts about "One" and "Fearless," and I'm not going to feign inspiration and write something that winds up terrible just to see it through. Please don't mistake this for disinterest; I like the music, I just don't like forced writing for the sake of meeting a deadline when the inspiration isn't there. I imagine a certain band feeling pressure to write new music would understand.

If you'd like to check out my posts about the first five tracks, you can find those here:

Don't Ever Change
Only Love
Against The World

Instead of talking about the final two tracks or the album as a whole, I mostly want to talk about the unique release method of Against The World and how much of an impact it has had on my consumption of this music.

Speaking of consumption, I don’t know what your Thanksgiving dinner traditions look like or if you even celebrate Thanksgiving, but let me start an excessive food analogy by telling you a little bit about mine. I LOVE food. I want a little bit of everything on my plate, and I don’t care if my foods touch. I’m not the kind of psychopath that mixes everything together into a cranberry-infused abomination, but I’m of the opinion that some foods are just better together and can enhance each others’ flavors when eaten in succession or combination. I would never eat my turkey separate from my dressing. None of that finishing all of one food before moving onto the next, and I’m sure if you told me I had to eat all of my sweet potatoes before trying something else, I’d be 1) sick of sweet potatoes by the time I finished, even though I love them, and 2) mad that I’m out of sweet potatoes later. Just let me sample everything and alternate bites so I can enjoy the variety. The best part about Thanksgiving isn’t that we get to have turkey or macaroni and cheese or pumpkin pie; it’s that we get to have turkey AND macaroni and cheese AND pumpkin pie. It’s the combination and the variety of options and the ability to gorge yourself on all of it at once that really makes it a special occasion and not just another macaroni and cheese Thursday.

Now replace “sweet potato casserole” and “turkey” and “macaroni and cheese” and “pumpkin pie” with “Don’t Ever Change” and “Against The World” and “Annalie” and “Stronger,” and my food analogy is complete. In short, I like the dishes. I like the holiday. But to me, delivering them course by course feels a lot like taking the magic of a full album and and dividing up the ingredients in a way that detracts from the overall enjoyment rather than enhancing it. It’s like I feel full but still hungry all at once, and I don’t really know how to digest that feeling.

I probably don’t need to explain that I was skeptical when the announcement of Against The World revealed that we’d be getting one single per month over the course of seven months. I know my music consumption habits just as well as my Thanksgiving ones, and there’s no escaping the fact that my favorite way to listen to a new album is all at once in my own little vacuum that doesn’t really exist, but that I try really hard to preserve anyway. If you’re lucky enough to experience it, there’s something magical about getting your hands on a brand new album that you’ve never heard before. That first listen is pure, full of potential, and untainted by critics and outside opinions. I suppose the same is true when you’re counting down the seconds to a midnight release of a single song, but there’s just something more satisfying about the sensory overload of being hit with so many new songs all at once, sorting through how they all flow together, and finding out which ones you’re drawn to from the beginning. I knew that I wouldn’t get that with Against The World, but after the initial shock of the announcement wore off, I tried to keep an open mind. It might not be my ideal way to experience a new album, but I wanted to give Hanson’s preferred process a chance the way that they intended it to be experienced.

Honestly, having a song to look forward to every month for the better part of a year was exciting (the book nerd in me really wants to refer to this as a “slow burn” experience, which can be an effective way to build anticipation). I don’t think we have ever in the history of Hanson had this level of frequent music releases, and while it was drawn out, it was almost challenging to keep up with at times. With real life happening between releases, a couple of trips to Tulsa, and other responsibilities in general, despite the lingering anticipation, some months seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and I would find myself yet another week behind in reviewing the latest song. If Hanson has ever struggled with fans jumping ship during droughts of creative silence and lack of content, this certainly seems like a solid way to keep the interest alive.

Which brings me to the simple fact that no matter how strong my personal preferences may be, I am not the average music consumer, and if you’re reading this incredibly niche super fan blog, spoiler alert: you probably aren’t either. We are simultaneously Hanson’s target audience and NOT Hanson’s target audience. The truth is while us die hards may be Hanson’s ideal audience, the type of fans that jump in and cling on for dear life and allow them the luxury of continuing to do what they’re doing, we are not the audience that they have to actively target. They’ve already got us. They know we are listening. Instead, I think you could argue that the real "target" is getting more fans. New fans. Casual music lovers who may be willing to listen to a random new single that pops up in their timeline but are not actually out there waiting on pins and needles for that vacuum-sealed magical music experience of an entirely new album that they may not have the patience, desire, or funds to listen to all at once. I really can’t fault Hanson for knowing this and for trying something outside of the box in a world where the music industry is always changing.

Though it has certainly been exciting getting new music constantly, I can't say it really feels like getting a new album (and I think I would feel this way whether it was 7 songs or 14). It still feels solidly "other" to me, like String Theory. Not bad, just not like a fresh new album, almost like if you'd given me short 10-minute mini episodes of a really good TV show once a week and then told me at the end that I'd just watched a full movie. It might be true, but it still doesn't feel the same.

What it comes down to is I think I really like the individual pieces from Against The World, but I've been a bit too distracted by the packaging and think I need some time to gain perspective and get over the lingering foreign feeling to truly appreciate it. There are some great songs in this collection, and I can't help but wonder if I had stumbled into this fan base five years from now, would I be raving about Against The World while going “What’s the big deal?” any time someone inevitably brings up the ATW era like it was some bad moment that fans made it past? Give it a couple of years and I will probably look back on these songs with a happy nostalgia and reread this entry and laugh at how extra I was feeling because boo hoo, my favorite band gave me good music but in a weird new way that challenged my dislike of change. I suppose not liking the package a good gift comes in is a first-world problem if I ever heard of one, but the purpose of this blog existing in the first place was to give an honest depiction of fan life, so here we are. In conclusion, I am still at this table and ready to dig in, but my personal opinion? It should've always been as one.

October 19, 2021

Against The World: Stronger

When Hanson announced Against The World, I committed to writing a blog entry per song. They chose this song-per-month release format to give each song the attention it deserves, and for better or for worse, I signed on to blog in that same format for the duration of the project. At first I kind of liked the idea of challenging myself to dig deeper into every song. There can be no skip songs here, and I was curious to see where that would lead.

While writing an entire blog post about a single song is not new territory for me, I have only ever done it when inspiration struck and I had some grand-feeling epiphany about a song. I have only ever done it when the words were already building up in my head and practically begging to be let out. Making an advanced commitment to write about a song I haven't even heard is a little scary. What if I don't like it? What if I don't "get" it and have nothing to say? What if I love it to death, but we're five songs in, and I'm just kind of over the concept of making myself do this thing that I have only ever done out of desire, and turning it into an obligation makes it not so fun anymore?

That's where I'm at now. "Stronger" is a truly amazing song, and I can already tell you it deserves better than this blog of duty when it might have been a blog of passion if I hadn't turned it into a homework assignment all those months ago. I sucked the fun right out of it, which is a shame because I do believe this is one of those songs that would have demanded my attention and my word count all on its own. I'll do my best to do it justice anyway.

So "Stronger." I want to take this one in a different direction and instead of forcing a close reading of lyrics that are already pretty self-explanatory, I want to take you through my first impression of hearing it. I accidentally watched a few seconds of a clip Taylor posted of his hands playing the piano on Instagram days before "Stronger" was released. When I heard the notes he was playing, I immediately thought "Dear God, PLEASE let this be from the new single, and if not, please don't let this beautiful piece of music stay hidden in the vault."

The first time I listened to "Stronger," I did it alone in my room at midnight with my earbuds in and my eyes closed. I didn't get distracted by all the pretty northern lights in the music video or the dramatic stage lighting (which is actually really cool and very well done). And when I pressed play for the first time and heard those opening piano notes, my grin was instant and involuntary. 

When the harmonies hit about 47 seconds in, I felt giddy. THIS is what good music feels like: adrenaline and butterflies and threats of tears regardless of whether you're experiencing it live in a symphony hall with the best acoustics or sitting alone in your room, completely transported by a pair of cheap headphones and the simple magic of stacked sibling harmonies. 

The 1:03 mark introduced strings, and with it, a subtle connection to String Theory. I found myself wondering if they ever play another String Theory show, would they consider reworking newer songs that fit the story and the style? "Stronger" is exactly the type of powerhouse that deserves to be backed by a symphony orchestra. (This is also the part where I admit that I initially thought this second verse was sung by Zac. It wasn't until I was watching the video for the first time hours later that I realized it was Taylor!)

At 1:16, we get five rapidly ascending notes from a harpsichord, and that was the first moment I went from fully on board and in love to suddenly unsure where this train was heading. Ten seconds before, I'd been imagining String Theory, and then suddenly I was transported to "An Evening At The Big Top," which is not a place I'm sure Hanson meant to take me. That minor introduction of a few notes on a harpsichord was all it took for me to hear the beat of the piano chords in an entirely new way, and I couldn't help but get this sudden cyclical circus-y feeling like someone was slowly turning the handle of a jack-in-the-box, and we're on a carousel inside. I didn't dislike any of it; I just no longer knew what direction this song was about to take. Maybe it wasn't the beautifully safe piano ballad I thought it was going to be.

At 1:47, an electric guitar sneaks in on top of those stacked harmonies, and I for sure no longer knew where we were headed, but man I wanted to go there anyway. The song progressively takes off from there with more guitar, more harmonies, and more Queen vibes before finally crashing back down to a single stripped-down note at the end. It leaves you feeling like that abrupt stop at the end of a great rollercoaster where you're already climbing out of your seat, but your mind and body still haven't caught up from the fact that you were hanging upside down at 80 mph just 20 seconds before.

"Stronger" is not the piano ballad I thought I was signing up for when I pressed play. During that first listen, it felt progressive and even experimental at times, not taking any of the safe, String-Theory-esque turns I expected it to take after such a simple and beautiful opening. After listening a few more times, I accepted the harpsichord and the guitar and the Queeny harmonies, and it no longer feels as "out there" as it did on that first listen. I still can't explain the circus feels and won't try to invent some conspiracy theory level explanation, but I'm curious if it was intentional, and if so, what was the intent?

Thematically, the lyrics are straight-forward and I won't bother with an analysis, but I will say that I like the overall sense that it's about someone striving to be better, and the song itself gets progressively "stronger" by adding in more voices, more instruments, and ultimately more support from others. Taylor also talked about this some in a speech he gave the first time they performed this song live back in September. He mentioned a special music teacher, Ron Anderson, who helped him at a time when he was struggling vocally to be strong enough to perform all over the world as a young band. It was a touching moment and I think one of my biggest takeaways from this song and from that bit of insight is that we are ultimately stronger when we work together and when we accept help from those who are willing to give it. 

I think if I had not roped myself into this series of ATW blogs, the blog I would have naturally written about "Stronger" would have been tying it to the themes in "All I Know" (and maybe also "Believe"). I would've talked about how "Stronger" feels like a progression of that utterly defeated person in "All I Know" waking up and feeling the slightest bit more hopeful that maybe he's not about to reach an end, maybe he can find his way, but all he knows is that he needs to be stronger to get out of that place. Maybe one day I'll feel like writing it, or maybe giving it one paragraph here is all it really needs anyway.

So final thoughts? Falling victim to the unavoidable wordplay opportunity here, I have to say that "Stronger" is the "strongest" song yet from ATW. The piano is breathtaking, the lyrics are powerful and full of raw emotion, and I never stood a chance against those harmonies. Despite its theme about not feeling adequate and striving to be stronger, "Stronger" itself is certainly not suffering from any of those shortcomings.

Hanson: *writes song about feeling weak and inadequate*
Song: *is the strongest, most impressive release of the entire project so far*

October 10, 2021

Listener's Choice: ATW + Concert Series

When You Have No Flight To Guide You

Welcome to the trip that almost didn't happen. I'd like to start by giving a shoutout to American Airlines for having more cancellations in one day than Hanson had in all of 2020. What a truly remarkable accomplishment.

I started out with a flight to Tulsa the night before the first show. As in, about 24 hours early. As in, if anything goes wrong there should be a multitude of other options and plenty of time to get me there. Wrong.

First, my flight from my home airport was delayed. No big deal; I go to the counter and they're able to switch me to a later connection that still gets me to Tulsa about 1.5 hours after my original flight. I'm all set...until the flight from my home airport gets "delayed" until 6am the next morning due to maintenance. My first thought is okay this sucks, but that's still plenty of time to get in tomorrow afternoon, and if I'm going to be stuck overnight somewhere, I might as well be stuck at home.

Then things get crazy. First, I get an email saying I've been automatically rebooked on a new flight and telling me there are other rebooking options if what they gave me didn't work. What they gave me was a flight that landed during the first a city in Arkansas? So apparently that's a thing now, canceling your flight and sending you to an adjacent city. When I speak with an agent they tell me that the news is grim and that even looking at all options from their partnerships with other airlines, there are no flights that can get me to Tulsa until 11:30pm the following night. AFTER the first show. I tell them I'm willing to drive a few hours to a different airport if needed, but the results are the same. There's nothing in a 200 mile radius from home that can get me to Tulsa before that first show. I even check outside airlines, well aware that I'd just have to pay for another flight out of pocket, but the results are no better. The universe does not want me in Tulsa on October 1st.

Thankfully, my friend that lives in Tulsa is a part-time superhero and offers to pick me up in a different city if I can get to another airport in the vicinity of Tulsa. I have the agent check the next closest airport to her. Still nothing. So after four hours in the airport, I give up and let them rebook me on the 11:30pm flight the following night and walk out close to tears, resigned to accept the fact that if I'm lucky, I'll get ONE show.

I'm in my car about a block from the airport when I get a call from my friend telling me that she found a flight to Kansas City that she can drive to that would get me in that same night. The kicker: the flight is at 8pm. I look at my clock and it is 7:20 and I'm no longer in the airport. I activate illegal U-turn mode. I call customer service and by some miracle, someone answers on the first ring and confirms that there are seats on both flights if I want it. I tell her YES, put me on that flight, and explain that I am running back into the airport as we speak. She goes "Wait, you’re not in the airport? What time is it in your time zone?", and when I tell her, she tries to talk me out of it and says that the flight is already boarding and I still have to make it through security and they might not let me board. She tells me that if she changes my flight and I don't make it, then I've also lost the other flight for the following night. I tell her to do it anyway, she reluctantly listens, and I sprint through security and thank God for southern hospitality as I dash past the few people in line, asking their permission while I'm already ahead of them. They all give me encouragement and tell me "GO! You're going to make it!"

I'm the last person on the flight, but I do make it. I message my friends that the crisis is averted, sorry for the long drive ahead, but see you tonight after all, etc. I go to put my phone in airplane mode at the same time I get a notification from my airline app: flight number whatever to Kansas City has been canceled. We're taking off and I'm now on a plane to nowhere useful because I no longer have a connection and it's too late to deplane. I desperately message my friends and tell them please look for anything else while I fly.

Once I'm in the air long enough to get wifi, I see that my friends have miraculously found a flight into Oklahoma City, which is even closer to Tulsa than my canceled Kansas City flight. I spend the whole short flight terrified that there won't be a free seat for me, but my luck takes a positive turn and I manage to get a seat on this savior of a flight. Suddenly I'm back on track to get to Tulsa the same night, and my friends get to cut their drive in half. It's a win-win. I get to the Oklahoma City gate with plenty of time...only to see another message that says "Delayed" with no new ETA for takeoff. We wait 30 minutes, then an hour past takeoff time while maintenance tries to figure out what's wrong. Finally somebody comes to the counter and tells us the plane won't be able to take off until 7am the following morning, BUT, they have us a new plane in another terminal, we just have to get over there and wait for them to do safety checks and we'll be on our way. THANK GOD.

We all make the trek across the airport and wait. And wait. And then we're being told that maintenance will have an updated boarding time for us soon because of course there’s some maintenance issue with this new plane too, and then I'm cackling out loud by myself in a crowd of people because literally what else is there left for me to do? I've just spent a combined 8 hours in two airports and I'm only 150 miles from home. I could have driven to this airport in less than half that time.

We finally, FINALLY take off, everyone around me grumbling at the super late arrival time, and I'm just discreetly grinning under my mask because I really had resigned myself to not seeing the first show. My friends pick me up and we find ourselves eating gas station hot dogs and taquitos at 3am, get to our hotel at 4am, and don't actually go to bed until 5. It's the most obnoxiously real "tour" thing that has happened since 2017, and I love it.

Here We Go Round Again

We all bent over backwards to get me there, so the only thing left to do is gush over how worth it all that effort was. Right? The truth is I had a lot of fun, but I was also a little disappointed by the setlists being the exact same songs both nights, and it reminded me a lot of how I felt after the first BTTI: happy to be there, underwhelmed by the setlist repeats, and then guilty for not just being happy. My expectations were probably too high for these shows because I really loved the January Listener's Choice series and the fact that Hanson snuck a few surprises into those sets. I had no real reason to think this would be the same, but I was expecting at least a little deviation from the voting and was definitely not expecting all of the same songs twice. I can’t help but wonder if maybe it was a case of Hanson knowing we all loved the January Listener’s Choice shows but not really understanding why we loved them so much and missing the mark while trying to replicate it. I can’t speak for the class, but I think the positive reaction to the first Listener's Choice overall had less to do with us getting to vote and more to do with what we got to vote on, the extras Hanson brought on their own, and the fact that the shows weren’t identical.

Only Love

Rest assured, despite the disappointments, I can still muster up some of my usual cheesy praise: The mere existence of the piano in “Crazy Beautiful” is a work of art in itself. “If Only” acoustic feels a little bit like trying to feed myself ice cream with my non-dominant hand while wearing my shoes on the wrong feet because it’s so foreign not to be jumping, but I love it despite the innate feeling of wrongness. I'm considering converting to the church of Isaac every time I hear “Only Love.” I'm pretty sure the guitar part of "Don't Ever Change" actually changes every time, but I love the feel of that song and the ridiculous strobe lights it's necessary to switch on my light up mask when it gets played. Also, “Stronger” is the best song of 2021 so far and is so gorgeous and raw that I may be at risk for salmonella.

Just As Long As I Get To Go

In conclusion, attending an underwhelming Hanson show is still better than attending no Hanson show, and I had fun regardless of the setlist, I just wish I could be writing a different blog about how I had fun because of the setlist and not despite it. In the grand scheme of things it's an absurdly first-world problem, and sometimes you have to actively choose to get over yourself and have a good time and turn down the tempting option to have a pity party instead. Poor me, getting to attend multiple shows and having to hear a bunch of songs I like TWICE. I think I'll survive.

On a happy note, one of my favorite moments was getting to hear “Carry You There” at the end of the first night, partly because I was so happy it beat WYIYD, and partly because it felt like an anthem for this trip that almost didn’t happen. I found myself giggling during “You don’t need a Cadillac,” because after my flight experience, I SO needed a Cadillac. I’m grateful to have friends that are caring and crazy enough to drop everything and drive to carry me there in the middle of the night just to make sure I don’t have any FOMO and miss something epic during the first show (#irony). Now let’s pretend I’m just as grateful to have a favorite band considerate enough to play the same show twice in case I really did have to miss the first one. 

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. 

August 29, 2021

I Get Around: Iowa State Fair

I had no intention of being at this show. When it was announced well over a year ago alongside the possibility of a world tour with new music, I told myself I'd rather save my PTO for something more worth the effort. Why spend money on a flight to Iowa for a one-off show with a predictable setlist when I could buy a flight to a tour stop, potentially hit 5+ shows in a row, and get new music? It was an easy pass for me.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021. Out of my last 17 shows, 16 were at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. I'm grateful for every one of them, but suddenly the prospect of seeing Hanson open for the Beach Boys in Iowa seemed downright exotic. Throw in an unexpected John Stamos appearance, and two weeks before the show, my resolve to hold out crumbled. The only problem was I had already requested off part of the week right before to see Hanson in Tulsa again. I would have to make a last minute time off request and also somehow operate as a functional adult at work on about three weeks of no actual downtime. I started to talk myself out of it as fast as I had gotten on board.

The deciding factor came down to one final question that I asked myself, a variation of the same question I've used more than once to push myself to do/go/be when I'm starting to question if I should stop/stay/rest:

Years from now, are you going to remember that extra day of sleep, or are you going to remember the night you saw Hanson join The Beach Boys and John Stamos on stage?

It works every time.

I'd love to tell you that we showed up early and enjoyed the food and the rides and say clever things about how we had the perfect summer day where Hanson opened for The Beach Boys, and the fair opened for Hanson. But truthfully, it was hot and crowded in the middle of a pandemic, and as I get older my motion sickness on rides grows inversely proportional to my trust in fair construction, so we showed up at 5:30pm just in time to find a secluded corner to eat a corndog. 

Hanson's set was mostly as predictable as I would have guessed over a year ago, but just seeing them that happy and getting to be there to support them made it something special anyway. They played longer than I expected for an opener and got in a full 13 songs. Highlights for me were getting to hear "Give a Little" for the first time in what feels like way too long, and living through the awkward moment of attempting the TBS dance alone since I bought my ticket too late to sit with friends. It's definitely more of a group project. I was surprised that they didn't play any of the new singles from Against The World, but I got to hear them all the week before and really can't complain. I just thought it was a good opportunity to share their new music with a larger audience.

I really wasn't sure what to expect from The Beach Boys set, but the show was incredibly fun. They blew through song after song with a full ten-piece band including John Stamos on drums and guitar, one of the original member's sons, and a guy that can really nail an unexpected flute solo. The whole crowd sang along, and it was impossible not to join in and dance like we were all going to be in a music video about surfing.

I expected Hanson to show up for the encore, but I did not expect the encore to be three songs or for one of them to be a Hanson song. They started out with "Summertime Blues," and I immediately thought of the videos I've seen of tiny Hanson singing it a capella. Next was "Where's The Love" where The Beach Boys band played the music and Hanson provided the vocals. I know Taylor usually gets in the occasional "round and round" arm spin on WTL, but it was cute seeing the whole band get into it for lack of anything else to do with their hands. (Cue Taylor making dad puns and pointing to Mike Love after saying "Where's The Love".)

"Fun, Fun, Fun" was the highlight of the night with Taylor singing lead and Hanson looking so gleeful to be up there with musicians they've clearly admired since childhood. At one point John Stamos disappeared, then ran out to the front center of the stage and opened his jacket to reveal an old school Hanson shirt to the crowd. We ate it up, and I think Hanson was really enjoying the love and antics as well. 

I feel like this blog is starting to sound like the song title with the amount of times I've used the word "fun," but it really, really was. It was great to see everyone on stage and in the crowd having such a good time and enjoying what felt like a celebration of live music together, regardless of who we actually came to see or what decade we were born. I'm glad I got to experience The Beach Boys and a moment of music history that will never happen in that same way again. Getting to see an older band show up decades after their original hits and still filling the stands with fans spanning several generations was as treat that I can only hope is a glimpse into our own future. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be looking up at 80-year-old Hanson, surrounded by fans of a younger band and feeling connected by a timeless love of good music, and I'll think back on this day.

Whether I have that luxury or not, I certainly won't be 80-years-old looking back on that fantastic night of sleep I got in my 30s (if only because I've deprived myself of most of them). No regrets.

August 27, 2021

Underneath & The Walk: ATW + Concert Series

While I love being a “traveling fan” and all of the fun and memorable things that go along with following a band, I’d be lying if I said it was always easy. I’m no stranger to sacrificing sleep and downtime in order to chase another show, and as a result, out of the past 26 days of August, I have spent exactly one resting at home. I’m on day eight of eight work days in a row, and I’ve been ready for a nap far more times than I’ve been ready to write this blog. Spoiler: I’ve had time for neither. I don’t usually like to wait this long before writing a show review because I start to forget things, but sometimes life and Uncle Jesse get in the way. Thank God this post has been far more delayed than any of my recent flights, at least.

I knew when the ATW + Concert Series was announced that I should try to reign myself in and not go to every show. I skipped July, but I knew that if I made it to just one set, it would have to be August because Underneath and The Walk are my two favorite albums. I’ll spare you the story I’ve already told of how I rediscovered Hanson, but the main point is that Underneath has sentimental value to me as the album that drew me back in, and The Walk feels important because it was the first album since MON that I was around for in its entirety. I got to pre-order it, listen to it the day it dropped, and experience my first tour with it. Both played significant roles in me becoming a life-long fan.

Since it has already been a few weeks since these shows and it’s always hard to summarize every detail even if they happened yesterday, I thought a list format might be best for this one. Here are a few of my takeaways:

1) When you're sleep deprived and laying at a certain spot on the sidewalk in front of Cain's, and the sun is at just the right angle, the building being constructed across the street totally resembles the building on the Against the World cover. Kind of.

2) HOLY CHAIRS. Did we get old, or did back to back shows in the same city just make bringing chairs easier than usual? Whether they were rented or brought from home by those who drove, almost every single person in line had a chair. I really mean this, and it was bizarre. I’ve waited in plenty of Hanson lines and there are always a few chairs, but they are usually in the minority. This time I was in the minority sitting on the ground. I’m okay being the outlier because I know I can’t bring a chair with me to any other shows, so I might as well not get too comfortable (also, I may or may not have packed a small cot, so can I really talk about excess camping luxuries?) #whenyougetoldandstartusingachair

3) Speaking of camping, if you are a light sleeper, you will not sleep here. This was my first time attempting it in Tulsa, and OMG, it was SO LOUD! There’s an overpass right next to the venue, and it stays busy and full of big trucks all night long. The second night I intentionally moved further away from it, but was instead accosted by—I kid you not—a small tornado of empty pizza boxes rotating loudly against the sidewalk for what felt like hours. Earplugs and ZZZQuil weren’t enough to get me more than a combined two hours of sleep either night. Not sure I’ll ever do that again, but those are famous last words, so no promises.

4) I was happy to hear “Dancing In The Wind” for the first time in what felt like forever, but I definitely missed Taylor on electric guitar. (thankfully those pizza boxes waited until the following night to traumatize me, so I wasn’t stuck thinking about them dancing in the wind during this song)

5) “Broken Angel” and “Believe” were absolutely flawless, and I will continue to be a sucker for a piano ballad for the rest of forever.

6) The first chords of “Great Divide” opening up a show might be the single most nostalgic sound in the Hanson catalog for me. The only thing missing was this throwback that will make no sense to you if you didn’t attend the first leg of the original Walk Tour.

7) Isaac’s solo of “A Minute Without You” on the second night is probably my new favorite performance of AMWY ever. This one requires an actual longer story. When it was time for solos, Isaac came out and started “Deeper,” which was confusing for two reasons: 1. “Deeper” is not on The Walk, and 2. “Deeper” IS on Underneath, and as such, was already played the night before. He didn't make it very far before he stopped, laughed, and admitted that he was playing the wrong song. (It felt like a great throwback to the very first BTTI where Isaac did the opposite and accidentally started playing "Wish That I Was There" instead of “Deeper.” Something about this song calls for entertaining mishaps.)

He switched to AMWY instead, which still wasn’t on “The Walk” and only made slightly more sense, but I’m just here for a good time and not to make setlists, so what do I know? The thing about AMWY, though, is we all know every piece of it by heart and have been singing along for decades. If you take Taylor out of the equation, we don’t stop knowing where to sing the “Oh, yeahs!” And if you take out the drums, the electric guitars, the piano, and just strip it down to an acoustic guitar with a single voice—apparently we don’t change the volume we’re used to singing at, either. So when Isaac asked us to join in some crowd participation to back him up, we did. We sang one particular “oh yeah” back so enthusiastically that he stopped playing and said we were so loud that it made him forget the words. It made for a good laugh and I think set us all on an unspoken goal to continue to sing even louder for the rest of the song. Challenge accepted.

8) It felt like Hanson had really practiced and prepared to bring their best for both of these shows. I watched the livestreams in July and noticed several missed lyrics and chords, particularly on the new songs, but they were MUCH more polished this time. These were solid A+ shows to be proud of.

9) I know I can't keep acting like every show after a year's worth of seated tables is the closest thing I've had to normal, but being back in a GA crowd in Cain's did feel a little more like a normal Hanson show than the seated show in Virginia. The moment that really sealed it for me was dancing elbow to elbow during "Lost Without Each Other" and not being able to let loose with an awkwardly excessive amount of room to spare. I was able to disappear back into the comfort and "safety" of a crowd without 6 feet of dancing space on all sides (ironic, huh?), and there was something nice about that even if I loved the spaced out tables for other reasons. Totally missed that space for TBS, though.

10) Cheesecake factory closes at 10pm. I'm putting this here in hopes that one day, we will remember this fact well before 9:45pm, which in my experience is the peak time to recognize a sudden need for Cheesecake Factory.

11) I can always count on Hanson to make my face light up. 💚💙❤️

July 15, 2021

Against The World: Only Love

Lyrically, "Only Love" is my favorite single yet from Against The World. I swear I fell in love with it a little more every time I looked over the lyrics while trying to write this post. That's not to say I don't also love the sound, but the word nerd in me can't get enough of how much is packed into these lyrics. Each verse tells a different story but follows the same general format: a struggling character desperate to run away from something on a self-destructive streak.

In the first verse, we meet a "lost soul" that the speaker describes as "just another proud man still hiding from the vow on his hand." He leaves his three children and his wife to chase another woman and feels no guilt for leaving his family.

The second verse describes a different scenario and presented me with a grammatical crisis that is unfortunately going to lead to the following tangent before I get on with an explanation. As someone with a very literary/grammatical brain, I sometimes stumble over a set of words if they're not spelled or punctuated correctly. Throw a comma in the wrong place, and I will read that sentence exactly as you wrote it and not necessarily as you meant it, for better or for worse. So when I audibly heard that first line sans any visible grammatical cues, and with the knowledge that sometimes songs emphasize sentences differently for the sake of sound, I struggled with how to mentally punctuate the thing and make sense of it.

First, I couldn't tell if the line was:

I have weakness as she sings as her heart beats to the rhythm of the saints.


I have weaknesses she sings as her heart beats to the rhythm of the saints

Neither one quite made sense to me, but then I saw someone point out that "The Rhythm of the Saints" is the title of a Paul Simon album and song, and after Googling lyrics, everything fell into place:

"I have weaknesses," she sings, as her heart beats to "The Rhythm of the Saints." 

God bless well-placed quotation marks. Sometimes they're totally neccessary.

Grammatically induced tangent aside, "I have weaknesses" is the first lyric in "The Rhythm of the Saints," meaning the scene in verse two opens up with a woman singing along to Paul Simon, assumedly in a car on the run from some kind of "darkness" (another "The Rhythm of the Saints" lyric). She stops, robs a cashier at gunpoint, and keeps on running "without a care." 

The third verse is where we see an obvious change. We do get a new character, but it's not the same format anymore. The song progression goes from "he" in the first verse to "she" in the second verse to "I" in the third verse. Up until this point, the speaker has been telling us stories of other people, but this time he's getting more personal. He starts out with an admission of flaws similar to the previous two characters, admitting he is aware of his "demons and broken dreams and running headlong into false plans." But unlike the first two verses, this one doesn't end in a line describing how he kept running without feeling remorse. Instead, we get the best two lines in the song:

So whether hipsters or holy rollers, we find ourselves holding court on our knees./
But "broken" won't define you, 'cause love can always find you.

Instead of continuing his self-destructive string of bad decisions, he acknowledges them and stops to "hold court on [his] knees," a position that implies prayer. If you'd prefer to skip the religious context, I think you could also choose to interpret it as a man in a position to beg someone for forgiveness after owning up to his mistakes. 

Whether you choose to interpret his relationship as one with God or one with a spouse, family member, or friend, the answer is the same: only love (and its implied counterpart: forgiveness) can save him. 

Personally, I can't ignore 1. The church imagery from the music video, 2. Hanson's occasional tendency to include religious references in their music, and 3. The fact that just plain seeing Isaac in that collared white shirt in the promo images screamed "Preacher!" before I ever heard the song. When I think about Preacher!Isaac, I can't help but think about growing up in my own Southern Baptist church and how incredibly similar the entire message in this song sounds to some of the sermons I've heard. It's got parables, references to lost souls, and an uplifting encouragement to accept love and be saved from your past sins. It starts with a couple of cautionary tales, gives a personal testimony, and ends with a call to you personally. That's sermon formula 101.

And while that may be my personal takeaway from this song, "love" as a theme is such a big universal concept that leaves us open to make our own personal connections. No matter your perspective, it's a rock-solid song about how love and forgiveness are tied together. It's about looking for redemption and letting love save you from a self-destructive path, and that's true whether it's God's love, romantic love, familial love, or simply learning to love yourself. ❤

Disclaimer: Hanson has not released official lyrics for this song, so this analysis is based on my best take after listening and comparing what I heard to what other fans have heard. Sorry if there are any inaccuracies!

June 30, 2021

And We Won't Go Down: Doswell, VA

Photo Credit:

On The Road Again

On paper, this trip to see Hanson in Virginia should have been so easy and perfect it was a no-brainer for me to attend. It's a five hour drive, we had great seats and no need to wait in line, and we decided to spend the first half of the day at a theme park literally a mile from the venue. What's not perfect about a summer show close enough to drive to, especially when the opener is a couple of roller coasters?

Well, it turns out a lot of things. This trip was the epitome of the "just roll with it" mentality necessary for any frequent traveler. Our plan A was pretty simple: I drive up to Richmond from South Carolina and stop to pick up my friend from the Raleigh airport (the halfway point) on the way up. It was a plan that died almost immediately when her first flight was delayed enough to miss that connection to Raleigh. All of the options the airline gave her would get her in to Raleigh the next day--the day of the show--which would be pushing it to get us to the show on time and would definitely kill our plan to visit King's Dominion. I was determined to get those thrill rides.

So while she was in the air to Dallas with no idea how she was getting to the east coast, I was frantically searching flight times into every major city on my driving route (hi, it's the Carolinas. I passed four tractors on the way. Raleigh WAS the major city.) "Find something on the way that gets us there tonight" quickly turned into "how far out of the way am I willing to drive to get us there tonight." The answer was Norfolk, which added an hour and a half to the drive and meant I was going to do most of it alone. Still better than having to skip King's Dominion entirely. By some absolute miracle, I was able to get her flight changed while she was flying and get her one of the last seats on that plane.

But then I started driving, and things quickly went downhill for my travel day, too. My phone wouldn't connect to my android auto, so I was stuck holding it in my hand for the first hour. Then it started downpouring while I was holding the map and navigating a narrow two-lane road between tobacco fields. Thankfully, I finally got it connected before I had to get on the interstate, but the rain was freak Jumanji monsoon levels of absurd. It rained off and on the entire way and ended up adding another hour and a half to the drive. My five hour drive creeped up into the 10 hour range, and I've never been more grateful that we chose to come in a day early.

Welcome to the Roller Coaster Ride

Things finally started looking up when the weather cleared and we found ourselves at King's Dominion the morning of the show. Our first ride on The Dominator coaster was amazing, and I was so, so happy to be back at a theme park for the first time since 2019. Then we got on our second coaster, Intimidator 305, and at the first turn, my vision got fuzzy and started to black out. I have never experienced anything like it at the dozens of parks and countless thrill rides I've done. I was telling myself "Don't pass out. Don't pass out." It only lasted a few seconds, and I was worried something might be wrong until we got off and my friend turned to me and beat me to the sentence: "I started blacking out on that first curve." It was a weird relief to realize it had happened to both of us, and Google tells us that apparently this is totally a thing that can happen on that ride, and that they already added extra brakes to it to try to stop it from happening. No thanks, never getting on that one again.

We went on a few more, I got queasy because apparently I'm old now, and I had to sit one out that I knew would make things worse. I finally decided to join in again when we made it to the Drop Tower and reasoned that at least it would be so quick I wouldn't have time to feel worse. The young employee running it had a microphone and was being goofy singing "ring around the rosy" when we made it to the top. He got to the "ashes, ashes, we all fall down" part...and then nothing happened. We sat in silence for a few seconds and I was sure he was building the anticipation of not quite knowing when we would drop, but then more time passed, and still nothing. Then several people talked over each other at the same time on the speaker and we finally heard "Don't panic. There is a maintenance issue and maintenance is on their way. We'll get you down. Just don't panic. Also you may drop at any time." He would be quiet for several seconds and then start talking again, each time emphasizing "Don't panic," and very much sounding like HE was panicking.

I wasn't worried about being hurt, but I was beginning to worry that 1) we'd be stuck up there in direct sunlight in 90 degree heat and 2) I was actually going to miss a Hanson concert due to being stuck on a ride a mile away, and we literally could have seen the concert from that spot if we had just been sitting on the other side of the ride. After several more panicked announcements including a promise of free water and passes to skip a line of our choice once they got us down, we finally dropped about 10 minutes after we got stuck. The whole thing was pretty anti-climactic after a lot of buildup from the guy with the microphone who kept emphasizing that he didn't know how long we'd be stuck while also reminding us in a frantic voice to stay calm. Dude needs some serious crisis training. I got my free pass and walked away thinking "Too bad I can't use this to skip a future Hanson line of my choice."

Every Single Time I See You, I Start To Feel This Way

The show took place on the fairgrounds in Doswell, VA. We're talking a big open field with porta-potties, food tents, and everyone shamelessly getting ready in their cars. The openers were from Nashville and talked about how wild it felt to drive for 20 hours for just one show but that it was a great experience and felt worth it. As I looked around and recognized dozens of faces from all over the country--none of which were from Virginia--I couldn't help but think "You're preaching to the choir here." At the end of their set, the sky exploded into several minutes worth of that Jumanji rain, and none of us had any rain gear. The whole crowd got completely drenched, and all we could do was laugh and be grateful for a little cool-off in the heat.

I didn't think I'd have some big emotional response to seeing Hanson for the first "normal" show since I was fortunate enough to see every one they've played since January 2020. But then they were climbing the stairs to get on the stage, and I could see them grinning, and suddenly my stomach was full of butterflies and anticipation, and my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. It felt like coming home in the same way most shows feel to me, but this one felt a little extra special. "Waiting For This" was the perfect song to open with, and the crowd went wild when it started. The setlist was your standard one-off set of singles and fan-favorites just as I expected, but the excitement never died down and the crowd was living for it.

One different thing about this show was the presence of a short catwalk, which I had personally never seen at a Hanson show. Isaac came forward to do guitar solos on it several times, and Taylor was all over it any time he wasn't glued to the piano, grabbing hands, shaking the tambourine, and generally having a great time being back in a crowd. The band seemed to be having just as good of a time as we were and really thriving off of the crowd. It was an interesting experience being in the front row for it because it meant sometimes Taylor was technically behind me, and I'd have to turn around to see him jumping at the edge of 4th row. I wish I had anything more specific to share with you, but honestly the whole thing just felt good and right and gave me the best concert high I've felt in a while. 

"And We Won't Go Down" feels like an appropriate title in so many ways. We made it through the rain, the flight delays, the ride malfunctions, and on a bigger scale, the last 16 months since Hanson played their last full capacity show. It's kind of like being stuck up at the top of the Drop Tower. While I was up there, I was going "Yeah we're leaving after this. I may be done with theme parks," but as soon as it was over and I had time to process that I was safe, I was taking my pass to the nearest roller coaster for my next adrenaline fix. All the crazy hours driving in the rain, the detours, the months and months in masks could leave me feeling like I want off the ride for good and that the hassle and risk aren't worth it. But all it takes is that one moment at the top--that one moment in the crowd--to remind me that it's worth the unexpected twists and turns that get us there, that sometimes you just have to trust the safety nets and the science, and that I'll always be stepping off the ride, fast pass in hand for the next one, going "Again!"

June 7, 2021

Against the World: Don't Ever Change

The first time I heard "Don't Ever Change" wasn't earlier this week on or at midnight on Spotify, it was at a concert in Denver in 2019. The show opened with "Finally It's Christmas," "Don't Ever Change," "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade," and "Lost Without Each Other." Four songs in, I turned to my friend and asked her "What kind of Benjamin Button setlist is this?!" Hanson had chosen to start the set with the type of adrenaline-inducing songs I had come to expect at the end of a show rather than the beginning, and there was no question that newbie "Don't Ever Change" belonged in that designated rock segment of the setlist.

Now that I have the official studio recording in hand and after a few (dozen?) video watches, I can honestly say for what feels like the first time in my history as a fan, I like the studio version better than when I heard it live. That's not to discredit basically every studio version of a Hanson song ever, but I mean it as a testament to just how much I normally love the feeling of a great rock song going straight to my ears from the stage without the filter of a computer or inferior car stereo. I LOVE this band live, and I love the rush of experiencing a killer rock song in person. To realize I liked this one better on my computer was a bit jarring and out of character. It's a very weird feeling to watch the music video, go "This rocks, I can't wait to hear it live!" then go oh wait, I already did. Four times.

My friend who attended the Wintry Mix tour with me even tried to tell me that she had never heard "Don't Ever Change" before. I had to show her video evidence on Youtube that we had, in fact, stood in a room with that song at least once. In our defense, it was really hard to make out the lyrics, none of the venues we went to had the best sound equipment, and it's challenging to fully appreciate any new song when it's accompanied by a cacophony of shouting and concert talkers. I've been to plenty of gigs with questionable sound quality where my brain effortlessly fills in the gaps for missing words or blundered guitar riffs-- mcuh in teh wya yuor brian cna sitll raed jmulbed wrods--but that's just not something you can do with a song you've never heard before. I hope I get to write another blog in a month or two and recall this moment and just how wrong I was after hearing it live again. 

As for a song analysis? I'm not sure I can give you the type I had in mind for this series of blogs. The lyrics (now that I've properly heard and read them) are straight-forward. If there's any hidden meaning in there, it's deep and my shovel is broken. "Don't Ever Change" is a song celebrating the qualities of a loved one who seems strong, independent, and unafraid to be themselves. It sounds like a vaguely British Tinted Windows song birthed in the early 80s, perhaps in one of the cars in Disney's Rock 'n' Rollercoaster ride. I mean all of that as an overly-specific compliment.

The bridge is phenomenally addictive, easily the Queen-iest part, and I would love to hear an entire song in that style. It also has my favorite lyric: "You're my first day's thought and my last night's prayer." The first time I played it in my car, I caught myself raving in my head thinking "I am LIVING for this bridge!" Then I did some kind of unintentional word association and suddenly found myself making troll puns (see notes below). Welcome to my stream of consciousness; at least there were no raisins this time.

I intended to share my hand-written notes on this one too, but I started doodling on it, and if you think you've had secondhand embarrassment from my dancing skills, just wait until you see the blob that is me drawing a candle. Thank God for free graphic design programs and that I write better than I draw...most of the time.

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.