The rise of social media was supposed to make it easier for people around the world who share the same interests to interact with each other, and to keep up to date on interesting developments. This should be true for fan culture as well. Therefore I was actually somewhat ashamed when I discovered that the new Hanson EP Stand Up Stand Up had been out for weeks when I finally heard of it during Christmas. Sure, I was hospitalized at the time of its release, and thus I had a decent excuse for why I wasn’t up to date, but still, ain’t a real Fanson supposed to get around such minor inhibitions when new material is made available? Of course he is. I took about thirty seconds to beat myself up about it and making a mental note that ‘becoming a better Fanson’ should be among my New Year’s resolutions, before I delved hungrily into the matter at hand.
This – releasing an EP for fan club members first, then eventually making it available to the wider public – is how Hanson do things nowadays. The break with big record company Island Def Jam over the artistic direction of Underneath meant that they slipped out of the mainstream for years, and they now seem to enjoy pursuing what would be called a core vote strategy if this had been politics: Appealing to their most loyal fans, and hoping that their passion will make them some new ones along the way. Underneath Acoustic in this way served as a preview to that album, and later even debut album Middle of Nowhere was given a special acoustic treatment as a members-only release. Not only building loyalty from their fans, it also generated a fair amount of frustration from me, however, since some arcane tax rule has forced me not to sign up with the fan club. But at least they are masters of their own universe
This way of bypassing the traditional studio system in favor of nurturing an almost personal bond with their fan base also means that Hanson’s catalogue of songs has expanded far beyond the three studio albums (Middle of Nowhere, This Time Around, Underneath, The Walk), one Christmas album (Snowed In), a demo collection (3 Car Garage), two live records (Live & Electric, Live in Albertane) and two live-DVDs (Hanson Live at Filmore, Underneath Acoustic Live) that make up their official discography. In addition to these, you have a huge number of unreleased songs, other Itunes releases, soundtrack contributions and much more. Visiting a Hanson discussion forum can therefore be a somewhat confusing experience, because many of them tend to discuss the unreleased songs with even more seriousness and feverish gratitude than anything else. Regardless of whether the self-referential atmosphere irks you or not, you might pick up a song recommendation, however, and it’s likely to be worth it. My favorites from the relatively easily available underworld of unreleased Hanson songs are Bridges Of Stone, In A Way, Coming Back For More and Breaktown. If you haven’t heard it already, you should also check out their 2005 Itunes release. I Almost Care is mature Hanson at their best, and it also includes Dream Girl, a song that had previously only been played in the documentary Strong Enough To Break.
But even more important than Hanson’s glorious past, is the question of whether Stand Up Stand Up actually is any good. And yes, I think so. With its four acoustic and one album track, it doesn’t necessarily tell us all that much about in which direction Hanson are headed with their upcoming May album release, but it nevertheless remains both true to form and an interesting preview. True to form in the sense that it continues their flirtation with the acoustic format, and also in that World’s On Fire, which seems poised to end up on the album, reminds me somewhat of the power pop landscape of both Underneath and The Walk. I’m planning to write my way through their studio albums in the weeks and months ahead, in anticipation of the new record, but I’ll say straight away that I don’t necessarily have a favorite Hanson period. I don’t feel the need to distance myself from the escapist optimism of Middle of Nowhere or the sudden seriousness of the otherwise burstingly catchy This Time Around, but I also appreciate how they have matured as musicians, vocalists and songwriters on their later albums. So when I say that World’s On Fire continues in this vein, that’s a compliment, and something of a sigh of relief in and of itself.
What makes me even more convinced the upcoming album will be well worth waiting for, is that the acoustic tracks have the same irresistible catchiness as its plugged counterpart. Three of them are essentially ballads (These Walls, Carry You There, Use Me Up), but the harmonies and the backing piano gives them a surprisingly light touch. If, like me, you have long since learned to love Taylor’s small vocal ticks, his trademark whoas and oh yeahs runs aplenty, making me reminisce endlessly about the first time I heard him shout ouijje (or something like that) on Lost Without Each Other (3:34), which immediately became a greeting among me and my fellow Fansons. I may be the only one who ever did that, but I’m glad to see that Taylor hasn’t changed much.
If the subject is change, however, one of the most notable developments of the latter half of Hanson’s career has been that Zac has begun to feature as a songwriter and vocalist on equal footing with his older brothers. He delivered the first single, Go, for The Walk, but his best contributions this far have been the title track off the 2007 album, and Misery from Underneath, which could have been his first Hanson single. Not only does he write different songs from Taylor and Isaac, he also makes their sound more varied than it was when there were mainly two vocalists. Stand Up offers Use Me Up, a beautiful ballad that confirms that he’s still evolving as a songwriter. Also, it should make sure that he’s well positioned to climb further on the next SMA list.
Finally, although there are hints of it in World’s On Fire, Stand Up is relatively free of the global ambitions Hanson has pursued lately. They have organized charity walks for Africa in the wake of The Walk, and that album lead with a single, Great Divide, released in time for World AIDS Day. I think it’s great that artists show a bit of social conscience, but Hanson’s best attempts have not been in their music directly. Fortunately Stand Up doesn’t have a preachy feel about it. Again, Hanson first and foremost prove that they are even better than the sum of the talents of three brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma.