A certain hack columnist has for years been arguing that our globalized world is now «flat», but even in the supposedly ever-flattening world of the music industry there are still some limitations to the global availability of music, at least if you want remain on the right side of copyright laws. This is my rather long-winded way of saying that even though Hanson, which every even semi-conscious reader should by now know is something of an obsession of this blogger, released their sixth studio album, Anthem, this Tuesday. I have only been able to listen to a few tracks. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that it involves the different release dates for the US and the rest of the world, and yours truly waiting eagerly by the mailbox (!) every day for my cherished physical copy.
My maddening unfamiliarity with the new Hanson material that was readily available to American Fansons (and probably to members of the hanson.net fan club members, but my history with the credit card processor of that service is a whole other, and possibly even less interesting, story), was an important part of the context when I sat down to watch a public livestream with the band on Wednesday. The stream was billed as a cross between a mini-concert and Q&A session, but I was hoping for more of the former, considering how much new material there now was to highlight. In that sense, I was in for a rather disappointing sixty-or-so minutes, even though any hour spent in the cyber-intimate presence of the Tulsa trio is vastly preferred over most other entertainments. In the end, they performed only two songs from the new record, Cut Right Through Me and the new lead single, Get The Girl Back, not counting a short teaser chorus for Fired Up, which has been used by their local basketball team, the Oklahoma City Thunder as a motivational track. With time, both have potential to become strong additions to the Hanson cataolgue. I have no way of knowing how Cut will end up sounding on the album, but judging from the performance we were treated to here (here’s another live performance), it’s a continuation of the sound that was established on their last record, the wonderful Shout It Out. Same goes for Girl, a song whose more or less direct musical kinship with previous lead single Thinking ‘Bout Something from Shout, is part of the reason why it’s starting to grow on me. Not every song can be as effortlessly catchy as Somethin’, but Get The Girl Back goes some way toward achieving that. To give you a sense of the sound of the album version, here’s how the Grantland described it:
“Get the Girl Back” gives you everything you could want and didn’t know you could possibly ask for from a 2013 Hanson record you probably weren’t aware existed: cowbell, handclaps, more cowbell, the horn section from Bruce Willis’s The Return of Bruno, MORE COWBELL, a credible James Jamerson bass line, backing vocals that sound like soulful Muppets, AND SWEET JESUS THERE CAN NEVER BE ENOUGH COWBELL!!!
This apparent continuation from the previous record perhaps could have worked to calm my nerves about the direction of Anthem, but since the purpose of the livestream for me was to get a sense of the album as a whole, those two songs just left me wanting to know more. In press releases and interviews, the band has name-checked sources of inspiration as diverse as James Brown and AC/DC, and a while ago Zac branded it as a more hard-edged Shout It Out. It may have been the more stripped-down format, but judging from the livestream, I am in for a different experience when I’m finally exposed to the album in full. And if I had the opportunity to choose, I would have preferred that they play more from the new record, instead of yet another set of perfectly decent renditions of older hits like A Minute Without You, and slightly newer ones, like Penny & Me and Thinking ‘Bout Something. I made a similar point in a discussion of the Best of 5 of 5 DVD that accompanied the UK release of Shout It Out, but if you’re a committed Fanson, I guess part of the fun is lies in complaining about the sometimes obvious song selection for public outings like this one. It’s not that the songs or performances we got weren’t good, or welcome in the sense that every such opportunity is, but I wanted something more out of it.
Speaking of what I got out of the livestream, let me finish by making a few random comments about the Q&A portion. First, one of those watching the stream made a comment about Zac always have perfect hair. I was kind of baffled by this. Zachary is a God who I have privately and publicly idolized since I was a pre-teen, but his hair has never struck me as exhibit A of his unconventional hotness. Still, he’s mesmerizing in his very own way. Moving on, big picture, the Q&A session reassured me in my sense that the internal dynamics of the band remain the same as they were at the time of their breakthrough 16 years ago. Taylor is something approaching a musical director, Zac is the cute and goofy one, and Ike takes up whatever spot is left unfilled. For the livestream, that meant the slightly off-beat one, the butt of a good handful of stoner jokes of varying quality from the other two.
That said, the talk portion also revealed some minorly interesting things about Hanson’s broader view on their music and the state of the music industry at large. Among them: Asked what he does to take care of his voice amid the constant performing, Zac told viewers to think of the vocal cords as any regular muscle, one in need of regular use and training in order to perform well. Ike chimed in with the uncontroversial advice that people who want to become good singers should go to a good vocal coach (as opposed to a bad one.) Taylor said the flame on the Anthem cover is meant to capture the “spark” of the album (clever!). Answering a question about the best and worst things about being on an independent label, Ike ventured that the biggest downside is that you can’t blame it on faceless executives if something goes wrong. As for the best, there was the expected unanimity about creative freedom, even though there had been some real confrontations over the years about creative decisions. The topic got revisited briefly in a later discussion of the importance of remaining “true to yourself” and your music, which could mean pretty much whatever you want it to mean.
So, not exactly revolutionary stuff, either musically or trivia-wise. But this is still Hanson, after all. Sometimes my understanding and appreciation of the band is deepened by exactly this kind of not quite essential experiences. On the whole, I suppose the fact that Anthem remains something of an unknown quantity to me, has only served to increase my wish to finally hear it. I’ll report back whenever I feel I’m ready to make an assessment.