I had just sat down to think about what I wanted to say in my upcoming second essay on the Hanson discography (the first, on Middle of Nowhere, is here), when Hanson decided to steal all my points by previewing a new single, Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’, that incorporates most of them. I have only myself to blame for not being sufficiently disciplined in my writing process, and the fact that this means that Hanson are still on track to release a new studio album, Shout It Out, on June 8, is welcome in itself. Not only because it’s a new Hanson album, but also since their recording history has famously been filled with stops and starts, delays and reschedulings. When they finally won the right to break free from Island Def Jam to release Underneath (2004), four years had passed since This Time Around, to which Underneath had started out as an intended quick follow-up. And even after they established 3CG Records, the American release of fourth album The Walk was delayed for months, compared to the European release schedule (granted, it eventually contained several US-only tracks). So, yeah, every time they reaffirm that June 8 is the day, it makes me happy.
With Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’, the influences of blues and R&B, always an important undercurrent in the Hanson catalogue, finally takes center stage. In my This Time Around essay I was planning to point to You Never Know and Can’t Stop (live) as a stylistic shift indicative of what was to come on later albums, but that would still be to simplify things. Both Speechless (live) and Look At You (the latter was elevated to a new level of funkiness on the 2005 compilation Live & Electric) were early attempts in this vein, and on their 1998 concert album, Live from Albertane, they even played the old Motown classic Money (That’s What I Want). Underneath may stand as the turning point in Hanson’s career in multiple ways, but this is the one way in which The Walk is most indicative of anything. That whole album brimmed with blues, funk and a particular brand of white soul, from Great Divide and Running Man, over Blue Sky to Tearing It Down, and it seems that’s where they’re headed for with Shout It Out, too, although the recent EP, Stand Up, Stand Up seemed to point in a slightly different direction.
If it’s true, however, that Taylor Hanson is the de facto creative leader of the band – a critics’ trope that I instantly find somewhat reductionist, as Hanson in my mind has grown into more and more of a group effort over the years – they should have no problems in merging these two sets of influences. Taylor Hanson is already spreading himself far and wide these days, preparing a new Hanson release as well as being part of super group Tinted Windows, whose first album, released last year, featured this little gem, an infectiously catchy piece of power pop reminiscent of the Hanson of the early aughts.
Another interesting aspect of the rollout of Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ was what it could tell us about what the new album might sound. Apart from the musical influences, I was struck by PopEater’s emphasis that Shout It Out will be a more optimistic and lighthearted album than The Walk, a phenomenon that transcended way beyond a pop record, complete with awareness-raisers about AIDS (Great Divide) and charity events. But you can hear on the new single, with its catchy chorus, and a brass section not heard since the absolutely magnificent version of Crazy Beautiful that was included on the Live & Electric bonus disc. Initially, I was somewhat annoyed by the cliched connotations of Hanson wanting you to ‘turn it up’, but this is a piece of advice well taken. Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’, perfectly attuned to Taylor’s vocal strengths, grows on repeats, and carries with it the promise of a seamless yet sprawling and diverse transition from The Walk to Shout It Out.
On the Underneath Acoustic Live DVD, Hanson’s knowledge of music history was apparent in the selection of cover songs; Isaac took on Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine, while Taylor twisted and shouted Little Richard’s Rip It Up. Far from having ripped up the classics songbook, however, Hanson on Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ seem intent to shine a little light on the music that has inspired them throughout their career. I’m more excited than ever to see what comes next.
Correction, April 7: This post initially stated that Tinted Windows’ debut album was to be released later this year. It was released in 2009. I regret the error.