Those Hanson Devils - Entertainment Weekly
Let's hear it for Hanson, a trio of brothers aged 11 to 16, whose charming bubblegum-pop
debut, 'Middle of Nowhere,' picks up where the Jackson 5 left off.
BY DAVID BROWNE
If you're prone to think the youth of today are growing up way too fast, the current
stampede of rock & roll high schoolers won't ease your mind. The pre-teen idols of the
past -- the pubescent Jackson 5, Osmonds, and New Edition -- sang as if their worst
experience were not sitting next to their latest crush during lunch period. The teen rockers
of the '90s are a different class altogether. From brooding chanteuse Fiona Apple to
tormented grunge brats like Silverchair's Daniel Johns and Radish's Ben Kweller, they
seem, even by adolescent standards, inordinately angst ridden and world-weary --
freakishly mature. LeAnn Rimes, who belts standards while dressed like a Sears
saleswoman, already seems to be, what, 35?
Zac, Taylor, and Ike Hanson, the Tulsa brothers who constitute Hanson, are 11, 13, and
16, respectively. And on their single "MMMBop," they sound as if they're...11, 13, and
16. Driven by singer-keyboardist Taylor, whose voice has the squeaky, yearning passion
of pre-high school Michael Jackson, "MMMBop" is an undeniable confection. It's a giddy
trampoline bounce of a record that tells us to "hold on to the ones who really care"
because "in an mmm-bop they're gone." The turntable scratching (courtesy of the Dust
Brothers, Beck's coproducers) is a retro-hip touch. But "MMM Bop" never pretends to be
anything other than what it is--the overdue return of bubblegum pop. In the equally
charming video, Hanson frolic around on beaches and Rollerblades. They're a slacker
Partridge Family, with flaxen-haired drummer Zac their very own Chris Partridge.
Like the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," New Edition's "Popcorn Love," and Debbie
Gibson's "Shake Your Love," "MMM Bop" isn't some romper-rock novelty. It's fully
realized pop that just happens to be sung by kids, and the same goes for Hanson's equally
yummy debut album, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (Mercury). Like long-forgotten '70s Top
40 singles, teen beats like "Where's the Love?" and "Thinking of You" feel like a bike ride
with a pal on a sunny spring day.
The boys also bounce through skate funk ("Speechless" and "Look at You"), and Taylor's
sweet-13 soul redeems even a goopy lean-on-me power ballad like "I Will Come to You."
(Note to roots-music snobs: To kids like Hanson, Journey probably are roots music.)
That lack of guile is Hanson's most endearing quality. Although many grown-ups helped
make Middle of Nowhere--from song doctor Desmond Child to Brill Building vets Barry
Mann and Cynthia Weil--there's something utterly natural and unaffected about it. Hanson
dispense their share of lame Hallmark profundities, but they primarily sing of what they
know: a broken heart ("Madeline"), coping with "a cookie-cutter world" ("Weird"), the
classmate who vanished ("Yearbook"), and that homeless dude at the bus stop ("Man
From Milwaukee [Garage Mix]," which rocks more joyfully than anything by Radish). If
an alt-rocker were to use "I love Lucy" as a chorus, it'd be annoyingly kitschy. When
Taylor does it, on the heartbreak-kid weeper "Lucy," it's sincere--the sound of a teen for
whom a breakup means the end of the world as he knows it.
Except for brazenly manufactured playthings like the Spice Girls, they don't make
buoyant, all-ages-allowed pop like Middle of Nowhere anymore. Which begs a question:
Should they? Are Hanson, with their dweeby '70s thrift-store clothes, too innocent for
their time, an adult's concept of what teen music used to be? Today's high schoolers wear
the armor of the hip-hop nation--baggy jeans, baseball caps--and live for rap, ska, and
hardcore. By comparison, Hanson's music seems old-fashioned and anachronistic. It's easy
to imagine the brothers getting bullied for being such girly-boys.
That same quality, though, is what makes their music so winning. Until Taylor suffers
through the inevitable, Peter Brady-style change of voice, Hanson are walking on
sunshine, and don't it feel good.