July 8, 2013
When you have twenty-one years of experience in the music industry, people tend to try to put you in a proverbial box. Hanson has been labeled time and again as everything from a “boy band” to a one hit wonder. Rather than adopting those stigmas, they’ve fought to create music they love and believe in. In their third album on their own label, 3CG, Hanson pretty well dissolves any expectations critics held for Anthem. It has a harder exterior than they’ve ever upheld, and completely spans the spectrum of genres that serve the album’s theme. It’s a collaboration of proper rock, soul, and harmony. As a long-time fan, I can genuinely say, even I didn’t see this one coming.
1) Fired up – Hanson has never braved this territory before, but they need not fear going here in the future. The opening track of Anthem is full of hard rock, much contrasting the style they’re known for. The funky guitar riff sets the song up for a rock explosion. The pre-chorus sets the stage for what this track is all about – getting fired up and making some noise. The chorus is nothing short of a war cry to get people pumped, moving, and a little out of control. It makes sense that this was used as the official opening song for the NBA’s OKC Thunder this year. Considering this is the first of it’s kind, for Hanson, this song really introduces the listener to another side of them no one knew was there… Who knew they could tear it down like that? Taylor’s vocals are nothing short of pop rock perfection. There’s no better way this album could have been opened, period.
2) I’ve Got Soul – Well, this is a different direction from the above entirely. There is more than a hint of disco here. I can just see the platforms, bell bottom pants, and feathered hair. I really can’t escape this imagery when listening to this track. However, that may not be a bad thing, as there is nothing else out there that sounds like this song. It’s memorable, strong, and really fun to listen to. Let’s be real, they really didn’t need to state the obvious, but these guys do indeed have soul, and a whole lot of it.
3) You Can’t Stop Us – If ever there was an anthem for Anthem, it would be this song. It’s got everything you need to qualify: Hard-hitting lyrics with a slap in the face to the haters, heavy guitar riffs, punchy drums, and a chorus that everyone can remember and relate to. It doesn’t hurt that there are some Queen references lyrically, or that this might be the most intense lyrical performance on the album. I think they got the point across on this one.
4) Get The Girl Back – This is the fellas’ go-to tune when the one that got away is just almost within their reach. Besides the guy code-esque lyrics, this song has a lot going for it. There can really never be enough cowbell, and it’s alive and well here in #4. Oh yeah, and there’s a full horn section, a Motown-inspired vocal backing, and a totally solid vintage sound. Taylor’s voice really captures the mood of this throwback tune, with just enough of his signature style to make it tastefully modern. Whether you like it or not, this song is catchy and you will remember it.
5) Juliet – Not quite your typical love song, Juliet puts a present-day twist on Shakespeare’s most well-known piece of literature. Zac’s voice here is a great display of what he can do; and although he doesn’t quite break out his full range, it’s close. Lyrically, this song is really artistic and beautiful. The instrumental backing and vocals add a lot of modern chemistry to the song that otherwise could have gone the way of corniness. Instead, it’s a valuable contribution to this consistently shocking album.
6) Already Home – This song isn’t like anything else on Anthem. It’s a bit of a mantra of a different kind, for those who need to open their eyes to what is there for them and always has been. Taylor really stretches vocally, throwing down some pretty intense leads. This song wouldn’t be what it is without the well-blended instrumental and vocal backing, however. It all just comes together to create something huge that feels strangely like home. Guess that’s the point, eh?
7) For Your Love – Isaac’s leads are a rare breed of song, indeed, and this one really showcases his classical vocals well. This song is most reminiscent of Middle of Nowhere and Underneath, which are Hanson albums of yesteryear. I appreciate that his voice is allowed to dominate this song with its strength, yet the percussion and backing vocals provide a strong support in the moments they are needed. Lyrically, this could be any couple’s song of endless devotion, but I love that it could also be dedicated to a child from a parent. Even the guys out there have to admit, this is a sweet song.
8) Lost Without You – We were running short on good summer love songs for the young ‘ens. I think that “Lost Without You” might just have nabbed the role, though. With the innocence of claims to do anything to be with the one you want, this song provides all that young love needs to stay alive: hope and naivity. And perhaps it gives those of us that have been in the game a bit longer a reminder of what got us here in the first place. With the kind of vocals that made me (and millions of girls in the ’90s) fall in love with this band, this song is truly anthemic and exactly what we’ve been needing for some time.
9) Cut Right Through Me – Although probably unintentionally, this song actually introduces listeners to the patterns of a little known project of Taylor’s (and music greats Bunn E. Carlos, James Iha, and Adam Schlesinger) called Tinted Windows. The more spoken vocal style and the ’80s era pop rock is exactly what the amazing super group turned out in each song. In true Hanson fashion, there’s still the sass, but with an infusion of an old school rock feel… And more cowbell. Isaac does a great job on the guitar here, especially. Vocally, I love this track simply because I’m a huge Tinted Windows fan. I suspect many others will enjoy it because it’s straight-up fresh, and something new and unusual for the band.
10) Scream and Be Free – From the intro, this song follows the concept of the album. Zac again comes in with those flawless vocals, and the drums accent him well. Lyrically, this song is about letting go and gaining that independence we’re all holding back from obtaining. There is a great deal of crafty wordsmithing in there that makes this song pretty significant. I would liken this to another Zac-lead track known as “The Walk,” from the album of the same name. “Scream and Be Free” does carry with it a lot more flavor and soul, however. The chorus here is infectious, plain and simple. Yet again, not like anything else on the album… This is a great song.
11) Tragic Symphony – Maybe it’s just me, but the intro seems like a funky rebirth of “Black Horse In A Cherry Tree”… And I like it! This is riding pretty close along the lines of a modern disco tune, although less so than “I’ve Got Soul.” Bare-bones guitar riffs and a strong beat really give the soul to this song. It doesn’t hurt that Taylor puts on a really attitude-heavy show vocally. He’s channeling some major Michael Jackson in this one, providing a pleasant vocal rearview of MJ’s work in the late ’80s- early ’90s. Hanson fans may hear a little “Heartbreaker” in this one. For those new to the game, this is where Taylor lets go and really displays his pipes, and gives the ladies something to swoon over. It’s not often he lets it all go vocally, but when he does, it’s an experience for the ages. And to think, this may be the best one yet…
12) Tonight – There are so many layers of this song that I don’t know where to start. I suppose that the instrumentals are as good a place as any. There is a solid foundation that is soft and has a good rhythm, and bears a little nostalgia in its own right. Isaac puts a little guitar riff in there that’s pretty rock-influenced, but it’s just enough for a taste. The vocals are pretty standard for Hanson, which isn’t standard by any other definition, as they’re well performed, full in range, and very well-harmonized. Then there’s the best part: the lyrics. In the second verse alone, there is direct citing of three of Hanson’s song titles from the past. This is one of their many gifts, being able to intentionally reference music in titles or pieces of lyrics without being too obvious. The chorus is full of that feeling of the importance of living in the moment and barring no emotions or abandoning opportunities you’ll regret. I have a feeling that this is the song that Hanson will close out a show with, leading fans to sway back and forth, singing every lyric with lighters (or cell phones) in the air to illuminate that moment.
13) Save Me From Myself – Ah yes, as is par for the course, Hanson leaves us with a tragic tune of heartbreak to wrap up the album. This has been tradition for many an album for them. Zac takes the energy down a notch and replaces it with his full bodied, balladic voice. Instrumentally, what stands out is the stand alone percussion, which really just provides the framework for the song. The harmonic backing vocals are flawless and the perfect supplement to the lead vocals. Simple and strong, this is a humble way to end an album of such epic proportions.
I have to say, I was a bit skeptical that anyone could follow such a specific and bold theme for the entirety of an album. However, Anthem speaks for itself. There are apparently thirteen styles of anthems that appeal to listeners of many types of music, and they’re all here. There’s no frills, no corporate influence, just true and sincere music threaded together to showcase what twenty-one years of hard work will create.
The moral of Anthem seems to be that perhaps you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; but if you set it free, maybe you’ll get a chance to see what it was capable of all along.
Source: Music Underground