Hanson - The Walk
Despite diminishing returns in the mainstream charts, Hanson sound like they enjoy making their records. Independent music listeners continue to lap up the Oklahoman brothers' inoffensive brand of gospel-rock (2004's "Underneath" was an indie No.1 album) and "The Walk" looks set to keep them on course.
Opening with the sounds of a Zulu child chorus, first song proper "The Great Divide" gives way to a rocky/Chili Peppers edge with a genuinely uplifting chorus. The children return for a little chatter and to give backing vocals to "Been There Before" - a piano-heavy head-nodder. That's a couple of strong openers - can they last the pace?
Undeniably MOR and probably proud of it, there's a good dash of Marc Cohn's "Walking In Memphis" on the next track, "Georgia". The lumpen piano motif is thankfully lifted from drudgery by a strong vocal. With each brother sharing vocal duties across the album, the talent of Hanson is not in doubt. And they definitely write some memorable tunes.
In between songs there's the sound of fraternal excitement, with shouts of "This is the party track" and an almost comical "Bring it! - You're groovin'!". But that's fine, because making records should be fun.
But for all the audible fun in the intros, the playfulness isn't reflected in the songs. Getting through the heavy-handed production takes some work. The songs are constructed so firmly by Hanson and producer Danny Kortchmar that these short mess-abouts sound like the only time the players relaxed. It's so tight, every beat right on it, every level just tweaked to perfection. And that strains the listener. It's difficult to relax when listening to perfect pop shineyness. Teen girls will still love the sheen of spotlessness though.
Ultimately, Hanson fall between two stools on this album. It sounds like they couldn't decide whether to make a Beach Boys campfire-singalong album, or a Bruce Hornsby and The Range tribute. Strong songs are hamstrung by rigid production, and the weaker acoustic numbers ("One More", "Fire On The Mountain") would have benefited from a more knockabout sound. Instead, the lesser tracks are dressed up as bona-fide "Stadium Schmaltz" and shoe-horned amongst a handful of decent tunes. Leading the listener to get lost in an undeniably consistent sound, and be scrabbling for the exit by the time last track "The Walk" gets a little too earnest for its own good.
"The Walk" is available on Cooking Vinyl / 3CG Records from April 30th.
More Hanson news at Hanson.net