But they did. It’s almost puzzling how much Shout It Out feels like The Walk‘s logical next step, when the new album is so much better. It’s like Hanson have finally found the key to match their sensilibity to irresistibly catchy, hook-driven pop with the other musical influences that have always been in their music, but never as effortlessly conceived as here. And perhaps most importantly; to the greatest extent since maybe MmmBop, Shout It Out has a lead single that lays out where the whole record is going. This album would have been worth it even if Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ had been its only good song, but now it serves an even greater purpose. The Walk, and even Underneath at times, was confusing the listener by going in too many directions at once, but there is a consistency, both in sound and in the quality of the songs, that makes sure this never happens on Shout It Out.
In an mostly positive review, Slant Magazine charged that although Hanson are capable of excellent pop at their best, Shout It Out at times sounds a little too slick to successfully channel the soul music it owes so much to. While I recognize the production as polished, that is actually what I really liked about this record. Hanson could have been capable of producing a pure hommage album, complete with the steamy grit of yore, but I’m afraid they would have lost their distinctiveness in the process. Instead, helped by that very production, Shout It Out has managed to cut as many corners as possible in its relentless search for the catchy chorus, while still keeping true to the intention of its influences. The musically massive but lyrically simple Give A Little is one good example. It may sound like they’re just giving the fans something to funk along to, but that wouldn’t have been enough if it hadn’t been so evident that this first and foremost sounds like the record Hanson most wanted to make. From some interviews, emphasizing their wish to go in a new direction from The Walk, it sounded like they really needed this.
But can I take a minute to engage in some deeper geekery about the composition of Hanson albums? (I’ll do it anyway.) Apart from Middle of Nowhere, which ended on the irresistible four-leaf clover (got it?) of A Minute Without You, Madeline, With You In Your Dreams and Man From Milwaukee, it’s like they’ve never had the stamina to cap off their albums in a satisfactory manner. Even though A Song To Sing is a fine ballad, the blandness of Hand In Hand and the over-produced In The City always made me feel like This Time Around ended with the simple and effective Sure About It. Likewise on Underneath, the somewhat strained funk attempts Hey and Get Up And Go, coupled with the indistinguishable ballad Believe made Crazy Beautiful (whose chorus was the closest any previous Hanson song came to the sound of Shout It Out) was that album’s curtain call for me. And finally, the closer The Walk was boxed by a couple of songs that didn’t necessarily make me very interested in waiting for Zac’s haunting piano ballad to take their place.
All this to say that not only does Shout It Out have one of the strongest lineups of Hanson songs so far, but that they are even ordered in a way that keeps me interested all the way through. Sure, as the definitive standout, Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ would have deserved to open the record instead of Waiting For This, but what’s really satisfying is how strong the final act is. The band’s sound and range has been helped immensely by Zac’s growing presence as a songwriter and vocalist, and much as I like Use Me Up, his second solo number, Musical Ride, is an early favorite. From there, Taylor takes the lead on Voice In The Chorus, perhaps the song that comes closest to Somethin’s undeniability as a fine piece of pulling-all-stops, brassy extravaganza. And then finally, there is the beautiful Me Myself And I, perhaps the most classic Hanson song of the album, a not overly obvious nod to the Hanson tradition, and the ultimate proof that they didn’t get lost in the hommage jungle. This is still Hanson. Judging from the energy and enthusiasm exuding from Shout It Out, it may even be more Hanson than ever.