May 30, 2022

Red Green Blue: An Album Review

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

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

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

Song: 1. Child At Heart

What It Sounds Like: An inner-voice pep talk

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

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

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

Red Ranking: 2/5

Song: 2. Rambling Heart

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

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

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

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

Red ranking: 1/5

Song: 3. Truth

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

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

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

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

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

Red Ranking: 5/5

Song: 4. We Belong Together

What It Sounds Like: Andrew McMahon's newer stuff 

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

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

Red Ranking: 4/5

Song: 5. Semi Hollow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song: 6. Greener Pastures

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

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

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

Green Ranking: 5/5

Song: 7. Write You A Song

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

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

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

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

Green Ranking: 2/5

Song: 8. No Matter The Reason

What It Sounds Like: Isaac Hanson gone country

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

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

Green Ranking: 3/5

Song: 9. The Gift Of Tears

What It Sounds Like: Isaac Hanson gone Contemporary Christian.

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

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

Green Ranking: 4/5

Song: 10. Cold As Ice

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

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

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

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

Song: 11. Bad

What It Sounds Like: Angry synthesizers

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

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

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

Blue Ranking: 5/5

Song: 12. World Goes Around

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

Favorite Lyric: "Even the sun goes down"

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

Blue Ranking: 4/5

Song: 13. Wake Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Ranking: 2/5

Song: 14. Don't Let Me Down

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

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

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

Blue Ranking: 3/5

Song: 15. Where I Belong

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

Favorite lyric: "Somewhere under the rainbow far away"

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Ranking: 1/5

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


Anonymous said...

Wake up is about loosing a child

Anonymous said...

I should add that Wake Up is a story about ‘waiting’ for a child after loss and the pain in that. Pray on is clearly a song written for Zac from Isaac after the scandal. Xx

Holly said...

@Anonymous My mind feels pretty blown right now. My first reaction was that we're all just speculating here so I'm hesitant to make any claims that any song is definitively about something specific without Hanson telling us it is (unless of course your hidden identity is a member of Hanson :-p ). But then I remembered the line "every night I'm waiting just to learn your name," and I can totally see it being a song about anticipating a birth and all of the excitement and fear that goes along with waiting. In fact, I can't UNSEE it, and it fits so well I'm kicking myself for not noticing. I think you're totally right.

As for "The Gift of Tears" being about Zac, I think it definitely fits (particularly the use of "brother" and the reference to wanting to hear the kick drum, because hello, he's a drummer), BUT, the lyrics are still vague enough that I'm not fully sold on that without one of them confirming it. My friend (also named) Holly over at got the same thing out of it as you did.

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your interpretations! You've definitely got the wheels in my mind spinning, and I hope Hanson will give us some more insight about these songs over time.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome. ;)

I'll also try to convince you for Pray On! :)

What a beautiful day to remember
Who you were when you were young and naive

(in reference to the day hansongate broke and Zac was faced with something created (a Pinterest) years ago, when he was still young and naive and perhaps saw humour in things he didn't realise at the time were in-appropriate- like a trip down memory lane but being thankful for this trip to see how far you've come)

Shooting for the moon, strumming out of tune
Just a crazy kid born to believe (I mean....this is Zac as we've known him over the last 25 years, especially when he was younger)

And not all hope is dead and gone (probably a moment where Zac thought that this was potentially the end of the band)

Get down on your knees, Brother and kiss the ground (like you mention, the direct link to brother- this ain't a song about a girl!)

Oh, I wanna hear the kick drum pound
Like a soul that's lost and found ( don't give up Zac! We still want you back after your "dark night of the soul" that I'm sure he was going through, a "cheer up" type thing)

Is that similar to what the "other" Holly had pegged too?


Anonymous said...

And I’m just throwing this in for good measure- semi hollow- a harmonica- not a guitar. I haven’t ever seen Taylor close out a set with a guitar but with a harmonia yup. (You and me were closing tonight) also lots of reference to ‘air’ (blowing) and ‘given you more to kiss’ pretty much how you play a harmonica and it’s also ‘semi hollow’

Anonymous said...

More for the harmonica, if you can find initial interviews about when he used harmonica first, it was for ‘this time around’ and there’s the lyric:’ All my friends
They know that you get around‘ in reference to John bopper and blues brothers etc going to play harmonica but Taylor was so good at it he ended up having the cut on the album ‘ But I tell them uh, way back when
They gave you to me then
I gave it to you all the way’

Holly said...

@Anonymous I 100% see how it fits for "Gift of Tears" to be from Isaac to Zac, but I have to play devil's advocate and say that it also fits if it was from Isaac to his fictional 70 year old alcoholic neighbor who has fallen off the sobriety wagon and needs guidance to get right with God and get back on the right path. It's common in Christianity to refer to any fellow believer as "brother" and "sister," and a quick Google search of "gift of tears" yields a bunch of religious texts about being moved to tears by God/the Holy Spirit. That's not to say that the fellow Christian he's speaking to who needs guidance can't be Zac, I just don't think it's safe to assume it can ONLY be him.

Semi Hollow: It's funny, my first reaction to this song without looking anything up was that maybe it's about his bongos. I could tell it was about some kind of instrument but don't have the background knowledge to recognize instrument terminology, so I googled "semi hollow" and all of the results are guitars. Apparently "semi hollow" is a type of guitar body that changes the way feedback sounds and the way the sound "resonates" vs. other guitar types.

I was in the middle of telling you that I'm still stuck on how the line "given you more than a kiss" could fit in with the guitar imagery, but it just hit this his clever way of referring to guitar licks? That's one piece of music terminology I AM familiar with, and licking definitely seems like more than a kiss lol.

My take on "All my friends they know that you get around" was that it could refer to the guitar having been played by multiple people or the fact that Taylor and the guitar literally get around on tour to multiple cities. I also think the lines "I could turn you down" and "I can't stop turning you on" are referring to plugging a guitar into the sound system and turning it on, and he could turn it down, but he likes it loud.

I'm loving this conversation. You should consider starting a blog; I'd read it!

Anonymous said...

oMG you are SO spot on about the guitar! Of course. And when he talks about ‘air’ and ‘silent’- that’s how you play the air guitar right, and it would come out silent. Yes to it all. I thought bongos initially too, i also looked up the production notes to see if Ezra was involved in this one as a co-writer because it sounds like something he would do. Maybe we could start a Hanson podcast together 😂. There would be a lot to cover and discuss. Xx

Holly said...

I came back to add that my "guitar lick" comment might be off because I read that lyric wrong. It's not "I've given you more than a kiss," it's "I've given you more to kiss." Haha oops! I'm back to not knowing what it means, but I liked my wrong interpretation better :-p

Anonymous said...

I’ve been thinking about this line a lot actually , and I still think you’re right! The only other thing I can come up with is that say that a guitar has a ‘body’ like the body of the guitar..omg no I am laughing so hard as I wrote this, sounds so silly! Can’t be that. Kissing a body I don’t know 🤷‍♀️ 😂😂. We will figure it out one day.