Ten years after their biggest hit, the boys from Hanson are still around. Even more surprisingly, they’ve matured from three precocious kids to a genuinely talented pop/rock band. After skyrocketing to fame with the inescapable “Mmmbop”, the boys watched as their careers were nearly sucked dry by major label “marketing”, with a rarities/demos collection and a holiday album threatening to serve as their epitaph before they even got started. As the boys grew older and bucked against the major-label system, they cut ties with Island Records and released the surprisingly strong Underneath on their own label in 2003. Their fourth studio album, The Walk, continues in a similar vein. There are pop hooks galore, solid musicianship, and the boys certainly know their way around a melody. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that among the artists that emerged from the teen-pop boom they essentially revived, Hanson’s currently making the best records out of all of them.
For The Walk, the band joined forces with Danny Kortchmar, who has produced records for melodic pop legends like Billy Joel and James Taylor; as a result, the album sounds both contemporary and timeless. It’s pop as immediately hooky as the band’s hits were, with a more mature sound that would sound right at home on Adult Top 40 radio. While none of the boys stands out as an instrumental whiz, they’ve all got a good deal of instrumental prowess, and the album has a fresh feel, probably due to the fact that the album was recorded “live”, with little to no overdubbing. While all three brothers trade lead vocals on this album, the star of the show is still middle-brother Taylor, who has gone from sounding like “ABC”-era Michael Jackson to recalling Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson. His emotional yelp gives these songs an even stronger kick in the ass than they already have.
Although most of the songs are fairly pedestrian love songs, they’re all delivered passionately and organically. “Georgia” is a piano stomper that, with the proper promotional push (‘cause of course you know that radio programmers don’t choose what they play by virtue of song quality) , should be battling the Fray for air time. “Been There Before” takes a look back at rock and roll history and the power of music with a hook that you can’t help but clap your hands along to. The upbeat vibe of these songs is irresistible, and may I add that the boys harmonize beautifully as well.
A charity trip to Africa last year affected the band enough to feature an African choir on a couple of The Walk’s tracks, but to the band’s credit, it doesn’t sound like an attempt to rape anyone’s musical culture. The uplifting “Great Divide” and the rocking “Blue Sky” both use the choir to enhance already great songs. The self-produced “Blue Sky” actually turns out to be the album’s best track, with some seriously funky guitar and a ferocious lead vocal by Taylor.
Oldest brother Isaac and youngest brother Zac also pop up on lead vocals over the course of this album, with voices that are somewhat more typical “rock” vocals, which is to say they sound like Taylor with a couple of spoonfuls more testosterone. Zac turns out to be quite the capable vocalist, with his two turns providing a couple of the album’s best songs. The peppy “Running Man” is one of those songs that will singlehandedly change your mood, while he also provides lead vocals on the title track, a song that escapes the album’s sole Achilles heel, the anonymity of the handful of slower songs.
The transition from child stars to respected adult artists is not an easy one, and very few make it through with their careers intact. It’s to the Hanson brothers’ credit that not only are they still around making great music, but they’re also doing it entirely on their own terms. If you cast them off as a one-hit wonder after teenage girls mooned over “Mmmbop”, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The Walk is yet another indication that Hanson is one of the most talented pop/rock bands working today.