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Rocking the Cradle - Time Magazine

Kiddie-pop acts like Hanson are hitting the charts.
by Christopher John Farley

The first time Zachary Hanson saw his own face on MTV, his reaction was a little different than that of most rock stars.

"I said, 'Look at the cute girl -- no, wait, it's me!'" says Zachary, a cherubic 11-year-old who won't need a shave until the next millennium. Zachary's only joking, but his humor highlights the youthful blush that makes the trio Hanson stand out. After pushing waves of twenty something alternative rock bands in the early '90s, some record companies are turning to even younger groups. "People are coming back to music that's fun and upbeat, and younger artists are filling that gap," says Patti Galluzzi, senior vice president of music and talent at MTV. Three top-pop acts have new albums: Hanson has just come out with Middle of Nowhere (Mercury); pop-grunge band Radish (led by 15-year-old singer Ben Kweller and the object of a bidding war) has issued Restraining Bolt (Mercury); and 16-year-old blues-rock guitar prodigy Jonny Lang has sold more than 150,000 copies of his debut album, Lie To Me (A&M Records), an impressive total for almost any bluesman but even more so for one who is still just a blues boy.

Hanson is making the biggest splash -- the trio's MMMBop is currently the No. 2 song on Billboard's singles chart. The group is composed of three brothers: Zachary (drums), 14-year-old Taylor (keyboards) and 16-year-old Isaac (guitar).

You'd be hard-pressed to find more appealing youngsters. Raised largely in Tulsa, Okla., they are endearingly innocent and spontaneously rambunctious. Their mother schools the three (and three younger siblings) at home, and their father works as a financial exec for an oil-drilling company. The family traveled a lot, and the brothers passed the time listening to their parents' vintage records -- "Johnny B. Goode, Splish Splash [and] Good Golly, Miss Molly," remembers Isaac. They began singing at local events, eventually sent tapes to record companies, and landed a deal at Mercury.

Like Radish and Lang, Hanson writes or co-writes its material. It's unfortunate, however, that all three acts have come up with immature, mediocre albums that are as much fun as a wet sandbox. Each album has its moments, but they are fleeting.

The marvelous MMMBop is the only really substantial song on Hanson's album (it's one of two tracks on the CD produced by the highly regarded Dust Brothers). Some of Radish's tunes have catchy guitar riffs, but none of their songs catch fire. It is possible to simulate musical maturity; 14-year-old country crooner LeAnn Rimes does an excellent job. But Hanson, Radish and Lang lack her grace and discipline; it's too bad Dr. Spock never wrote a book on raising rock stars.

But right now, fame beckons. MTV has been pushing videos by Hanson and Lang and pushing them hard. Of course, the next time we hear from any of these groups, their voices might have changed.