Not quite so pretty and somewhat less squeaky than before, the ’90s weirdest boy band, Hanson, are back again in their grown up incarnation, with another album of extremely pleasant pop/rock, The Walk.
Their career will always be overshadowed by their first release Mmmmbop, one of the most perfect pop singles ever released, and there’s no getting around that. There’s nothing that good here, but unlike previous offerings this is not a patchy album.
They seem to have come to terms with the fact that they are always going to produce smooth, mellow music and they can’t run away from that. The Walk’s single, unified sound mixes slightly slurred pop vocals, close harmonies and rock (not indie rock, not soft rock, not hard rock, just plain old rocking rock).
They find great form on the opener, Great Divide, with its South African choir and echoes of gospel hymns and Motown classics. Been There Before reminds me (God help me!) of Billy Joel. I would like to be able to add “back when he was good” but I am afraid I cannot. Perhaps the subject, a paean to the band’s musical influences, bolsters this unwilling comparison given Joel’s love of evoking nostalgic feelings in his audience. Even if it does sound like Billy Joel it works somehow – for a start it’s very much more heartfelt than most of their love songs.
When trying to work out whether some music has longevity or is just something piquing my musical interest momentarily I tend to listen a few times then wait several days before writing about it. How much has stuck in my memory is usually a good indicator of what’s stirring as opposed to simply pleasant. The first half of The Walk is still firmly embedded – not always for the right reasons, cf the whiney “Pleeeeese”s on Watch Over Me – but the memory fades as the album progresses.
I have bare bones recollections of the new single, Go (lots of mounting piano chords and tortured soul vocals – Take That should cover it, they’d have a massive hit), and very little after that. It’s all nice, it’s all good, but about 30 minutes in it becomes aural wallpaper until the upchange of gear for funky guitar of Something Going Round. The Walk ends with its title track, nasally plaintive, piano driven, with little bursts of snare drums far in the background to catch your attention.
This is certainly an album for people who don’t like anything very extreme. Its soul and funk influences are very well filtered through clean white pop but in many ways Hanson are doing something most bands don’t dare, producing solid music that is sometimes lovely without any quirks or gimmicks or musical twitches.