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.

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