>Album Review: "Shout It Out" by Hanson

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sorry, ladies. they’re taken.

Well here’s the thing: even if Hanson’s newest record was a piece of garbage, what would you do? Get mad about it? Get mad at the Hansons? As if the Hansons owed you anything? Who are you, huh? Who?

Who are you??

The Brothers Hanson don’t need to keep releasing music records. They have little or nothing to gain, artistically or financially. They started their career with “MMMBop,” maybe the best pop song to come out of the 90s, and made enough money from it to last them a lifetime. They come from well-to-do families. They all have wives and kids. They are all relatively good looking, clean cut young men. They seem exceptionally good natured. The reason they keep putting out records is because they like to. They like music. They are never going to be superstars again, but they have a small and dedicated fanbase who go to their shows and support them. They seem to like their fans. As long as they continue to put out records they will be the constant butt of “LOL THEY LOOK LIKE GIRLS” jokes, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. They just like doing what they’re doing.

Good for them! They’re doing just fine. If you have a problem with them, ignore them. Just know that they are probably leading more fulfilling lives than you are, full of music and joy. Who are you? Who??

Thankfully, the music on Shout It Out is actually pretty good. If you are like any other red-blooded American male and have been keeping a constant eye on Hanson’s career since Middle Of Nowhere, you might have noticed that their last couple records (2004’s Underneath and 2007’s The Walk) were semi-decent adult-pop affairs that often pushed too far into Jack Johnson/Jason Mraz acoustic blandness while mostly ignoring the fizzy pop goodness that is still their strongest asset. Shout It Out brings that goodness back in full effect, making for their most pleasant collection of tunes since This Time Around – “Waiting For This”, “Thinkin ‘Bout Somethin,” “Kiss Me When You Come Home”, and “Give A Little” will fill your heart with sweet tuneful joy. There are some slow piano ballads that don’t do anything, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t like “Carry You There” and “These Walls.”

There are songs with titles like “Musical Ride” and “Voice In The Chorus.” Most of the lyrics are cliche-ridden and not worth mulling over, but who gives a shit? This isn’t a Tom Waits album. Nothing on this record is going to change your life, but it may fill you with sweet good vibes. That is all I ask for from Hanson.

It’s musical comfort food. Happy goodtime kinda-sorta-retro pop from a bunch of nice men who want you to feel good. Who are you to refuse them? Who??

An addendum: please don’t be misled into thinking that it took me almost a month to write this review. It didn’t. It took me about an hour. I’m an exceptionally lazy man, you understand.

The lead guy from LFO died a few days ago and it affected me in the weirdest way possible. I can’t even describe it. The guy was 35. When “Summer Girls” was all over the radio, he was only a year older than I am right now. I did make a comic about it, if that sort of thing interests you at all.

So, for next time: Jordan Knight, Nick Carter, or a tribute to our dear departed Rich Cronin with a review of LFO’s “Life Is Good”? Take your pick.

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>On the Subject of Banners, New and Olde

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looks more like me than… i dunno, me?

Oh what hey?? Yes you may have noticed that there is a new and wonderful banner at the top of this blog. It was created by none other than the ever-talented KC Green, a man who makes comics on the internet that are pretty much great all the time. Forever and ever amen.

Seriously though, I asked KC to help me out with this banner and he finished it within – I don’t know, a week of me asking him for it?? I gave him the basic idea of what I wanted it to look like, but I did not need to tell him much ‘cuz he pretty much nailed it as you can clearly see. He is a stand-up dude, he really is, not to mention that he is probably my favorite cartoonist on the web right now. Hey friends, here is a question: have you read Gunshow yet?? Well if the answer is “no” then congratulations, you have never read the funniest comic ever made. Or what about Horribleville? Come on, get with it people! These are all the best.

I have written about KC in this blog before but it was a long time ago and probably not very well worded. So I will just end this by saying that hey you should give this man all your money unless you are some kind of fool. Also KC was cool enough to make an extra-long post in his LJ about this whole mess, including all the full-size completed album covers he nicely drew for me! Yes, including the entire Hanson Middle Of Nowhere cover!! God I can’t imagine how he must have felt, sitting there and drawing such a thing. THANKS AGAIN KC THE BANNER IS GREAT.

But now I would also like to give a long-overdue thanks to long-suffering blogfriend Stephen Winchell, artist of Phil for many years, who drew the last couple banners I proudly displayed here. Steve’s banners were instrumental in building a “look” for this blog (whatever that might be), and he made them without me even soliciting him to do it, so I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

as you can see, Steve was nice enough not to draw me as the pathetic loser i really am

Steve’s way of drawing me was the jumping off point for KC’s, so I guess Steve had a little bit to do with this eh?? I don’t know why he draws me that way but there is nothing I can do to stop him. But I have to thank him. He also likes to draw me vomiting, for some reason. Here, see:


Wow. So thanks Steve, thanks KC, these banners are the best, I don’t deserve them etc. etc. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more requested reviews! The next one might be the most bizarre one yet, if it is the album I think it is. Who knows?? Stay tuned blogfriends.

>Album Reviews: "Tinted Windows" by Tinted Windows

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So why does James Iha look older than Bun E. Carlos?

I honestly don’t have that much to say about Tinted Windows. Upon the announcement of their existence, I get the feeling many of my friends expected me to see them as a cream dream come true. This is mostly because, you know, Taylor Hanson’s their singer, and I am probably the only 22-year-old male in existence who listens to Hanson on a regular basis. But who else do we got? James Iha? Fine, but I barely care about the Smashing Pumpkins. Adam Schlesinger, he’s fine, although I admittedly don’t listen to Fountains of Wayne all that much. And Bun E. Carlos, hey, it’s cool that he’s here, but I don’t think he’s really up to doing much creatively – as I predicted, Schlesinger wrote most of the songs here, with Iha only writing one song and Hanson writing one and collaborating on one more. So I guess what we’ve got here is Fountains of Wayne with a different singer and less interesting lyrics? Yeah. That’s what we’ve got.

OK, I’m being mean. I like this album. Of course I like this album. It’s catchy power pop performed by a group of people I mostly genuinely like. Yes, it’s a pretty generic album as far as power pop goes – anybody expecting something huge from these guys teaming up will be disappointed (but I don’t think anybody was expecting anything huge anyway so yeah okay moving on) – but the melodies are nice and the singing is nice and the songs themselves are pleasant, with an occasional surprise here and there. Kind of. “Kind Of A Girl” is the single, and despite the fact that it approaches a nigh-Jonas Brothers level of cheesy bubblegum it is very catchy and I like it. Most of the other songs here are a little “cooler,” so to speak, but not by too much. There a couple big ‘ol ballads (“Dead Serious” and “Back With You,” both of which sound suspiciously similar but are still likable); a couple Cheap Tricky thingers (“Cha Cha”, “Doncha Wanna”); and the rest, for the most part, is happy goofy basic guitar-driven pop music. Does that sound like music you want to listen to?? Then this album might be for you!

There are a few songs I really like. “Without Love,” despite its very basic (read: sophomoric) lyrics, makes me smile. It’s just so happy! “Messing With My Head” also has a really nifty chorus, and “Nothing To Me” – Taylor Hanson’s only sole songwriting credit – has enough of a Big Star style for me to like it. But you know, overall, I enjoy this record. I can’t think of any individual songs that I didn’t like – some dipped under the radar, and I should probably hate the ballads but WHOOPS I like them too. Pitchfork hates this record (surprise surprise), claiming that it is much less than the sum of its talented parts, and they may be right but who cares? Neither were the Traveling Wilburys. I don’t find this record remarkable, but at the same time I have found myself listening to it several times over. It’s only 35 minutes for godssake! Zippy dippy pop. Yeah, I’d probably prefer to listen to Hanson, but at the same time Tinted Windows don’t sound quite as boring-mellow as modern Hanson, so that’s nice. I’ve always felt that Hanson, even nowadays, are better at fun pop music than they are at anything else – be it funk or boy band ballads or Jack Johnson acoustic douchebaggery or whatever – and Tinted Windows is proably the closest I will get to that, so hey. There you go.

Well that was a terrible review. You’d think I’d have a lot to say about Taylor Hanson’s other band, eh? Nah. Whatever you guys. I’m graduating. I’m lazy. I’m creatively bankrupt. I am many things. There’s a new Bob Dylan album out though! I’ll review that. That’ll be good.

>Album Review: "Middle of Nowhere" by Hanson

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Why the hell do they look so serious?

Let’s get this straight: I love pop music. Absolutely love it. I guess that’s kind of a broad statement, since everybody has their own definition of what makes “good” pop music. And for the past 20-plus years or so, pop music has been sliced ‘n diced into so many little pieces that it’s almost impossible nowadays to call ANY kind of music “pop.” You’ve got your crunk-pop, your RnB-pop, your power pop, your neo-grunge-pop, your punk-pop, your indie-pop, your emo-pop… the list goes on and on. So me coming out and saying “I love pop music” doesn’t really mean anything, does it? For all anybody knows I could be talking about the Killers! And I do hate those Killers!*

I guess what I COULD say is that, because I love pop music, I love Hanson. To me, Hanson are pop in its purest form, at least in the context of the mid-to-late-90’s. Their (best) songs are bright, bubbly, and completely over-the-top pieces of pop confection (like a cake or something) that will infect the brain of any listener that dares to hear them. I like to think that Hanson were to the 90’s what ABBA were to 70’s, or what Wham! were to the 80’s – upliftingly fun pop music, produced specifically to cater to the masses by utilizing the popular sounds of the period. So while ABBA embraced disco and Wham! used synth, Hanson use hip-hop beats and DJ disc-scratching – all, of course, married to wonderful pop melodies. Honestly, I can’t resist it.

Hanson are a little tougher to like, though. For one thing, they’re still considered something of a one-hit wonder, since they never scored a hit quite as massive as “MMMBop,” a song people still vehemently hate to this very day (I’ll get to that later). Secondly, they’re also credited with kicking off the boy band era of the late 90’s, despite not really being a boy band themselves – beside the fact that they wrote almost all of their own songs, they weren’t much for choreographed dance moves. Third, they were a bunch of freaking kids with long blonde hair that looked like GIRLS! I mean, c’mon – they’re almost begging for ridicule.

But Hanson were NOT the Spice Girls, or N*Sync, or the Backstreet Boys, or any other members of that lousy manufactured teen-pop fad they tend to be lumped in with. While Middle of Nowhere is definitely a product of the late-90’s teen pop boom, with its excessively slick production and occasional cheesy piano ballad, Hanson – at least to me – are a lot funnier, cuter, and more entertaining than any of their so-called contemporaries. Maybe it’s the fact that they were all kids when this album came out (Zac at 11, Taylor at 14, and Issac at 17) that gave the music its innocent prepubescent charm; I can’t imagine anybody older than 16 singing “MMMBop” without sounding like an ironic fool. Vocally, the younger two have kiddish voices while Issac has a more adult voice, which leads to a lot of cutesy vocal interplay not unlike the Jackson 5 circa “I Want You Back.” And man, they all sound so gosh-darned excited to be singing and playing, I can forgive the completely calculated production techniques utilized to bring in the teenybopper crowd. Back in ’97, Hanson were one big intoxicating rush of silly, innocent youth, something a mass audience wasn’t used to in the age of techno and grunge.

Now, I’ll be honest, Middle of Nowhere is a mixed bag as an album – which I guess is appropriate for a teen-marketed pop album. Here’s the rundown: you’ve got 7 mostly-killer pop songs, 4 cheesy ballads, and a couple kinda-sorta funky things. The ballads are, for the most part, pretty lame; the only one I like is “With You In Your Dreams,” but the others – “Yearbook,” “Weird,” and “I Will Come To You” – are kinda generic and boring, mainly due to the influence of outside songwriters. The aforementioned “kinda-sorta funky things,” “Speechless” and “Look At You,” aren’t bad but suffer the same problem as the ballads: they don’t sound like songs that three long-haired suburban white kids should be singing. But the pop songs? WHOOO-EE, I love the pop songs on here! Seven spunky, vibrant pieces of supremely catchy pop music. If this album were pared down to just these seven songs, I daresay we’d have a perfect pop record on our hands. You’ve got “Thinking Of You” with that cool piano breakdown, the epic “Where’s The Love,” the hilariously cheesy “Lucy” (sung charmingly by 11-year-old Zac), the Issac-sang “A Minute Without You” that’s probably the most over-the-top (and hence greatest) song on the album, the sunny pop of “Madeline,” and of course “Man From Milwaukee,” a song about a crazy man communicating with Mars. (Sample lyrics: “He’s been talking to long on his yellow walkie-talkie / he’s talking to Mars, but I think he’s whacky.” Hanson wrote this song all by themselves!)

Oh yeah, and then there’s “MMMBop.” People, let’s talk about “MMMBop.” I know a lot of you don’t like this song – you hated it when it came out, and you hate it now, a full decade-plus later. Why do you? Well, it’s corny! And it’s sung by little kids! And what an ANNOYING chorus! It certainly has none of the sheer depth of Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead or Cake. So why waste your time with it?

Well I am here to tell you that you are wrong. DEAD WRONG. “MMMBop” is, in my estimation, the best pop song of the 90’s. Again, we could argue about the definition of “pop” music all you like, but I’m talkin’ bubblegum here – sheer, concentrated optimisim, chunneled through a catchy-as-sin chorus. That is “MMMBop.” Just listen to the song again, I dare you. The lyrics? They’re about growing older and holding on to the ones who really care! That’s somethin’, huh? And catch those verses – they’re different, every single verse! They keep CHANGING! And the Dust Brothers’ production – PERFECTLY 90’s. Those disc-scratches and those sampled drums – I mean, if anybody knew how to produce a perfect 90’s pop song, it had to be the guys who did Odelay and Paul’s Boutique. But let’s not forget Hanson! They deliver that chorus with GUSTO! It’s just a wonderful, dizzying piece of pop beauty that is never ever boring. You cannot tell me that the most perfectly produced 90’s pop song is a flash-in-the-pan – I will not believe you.

Yeah, it was everywhere in 1997. BUT THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT. IT WAS GREAT.

Think about it historically – back in ’97, nobody was recording songs like “MMMBop.” Middle of Nowhere came out the same year as OK Computer, and Dig Your Own Hole, when ska-punk was hitting its peak and Matchbox 20 and Silverchair were still churning out boring post-grunge hits. “MMMBop” was an unironic, unpretentious, purely happy pop song – of course everybody’s gonna hate it! And nowadays, in an age of boring indie rock and crunk, people have even more of a reason to hate it! But obviously somebody got the message, ‘cuz the song was a #1 hit.

When I was ten years old, I hated “MMMBop.” Hated it to death. Now that I’m older and smarter, I love it – ironic, since the song was marketed to kids my age. I could listen to it everyday. And I do.

So you’ve got “MMMBop” and six other songs that are practically as good. Give them a chance, people. Believe it or not, Hanson are still around, and while they’re still writing some decent songs (look up “If Only” or “Crazy Beautiful” sometime – they’re great), they will never recapture the sheer rush of their Middle of Nowhere days. Why? Well, they all sound older now, and as such they don’t have that funny innocent spunk anymore. Now they just sound like a bunch of dudes with good voices. Where’s the fun in that?

Also they’re all married. Taylor Hanson has three kids. Seriously. Look it up.

*I am required to diss on the Killers every 3-4 posts. I’m sorry. It’s just a habit.