Release Date: November 5th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Don’t Ever Change (feat. Rick Nielsen)
- Only Love
- Against the World
Hanson has been in and around the music industry for a loooonnng time. Yes, a long time, and it was actually only recently (middle of 2020) that I explored their music on a regular level. I wrote a blog about their musical influence and impact, and how I outlined in that, that the band that I assumed, and thought were a boy band, turned out to be a rock band through and through…and that wasn’t a bad thing at all. Throughout their tenure as Hanson, these three brothers Zac, Taylor and Isaac have given to us heartfelt and compelling melodies that have come to shape and mould people’s experiences around the world- namely tracks like ‘MMMBop’, ‘Where’s the Love’, ‘If Only’, ‘Penny & Me’, ‘Lost Without Each Other’, ‘Go’, ‘Give a Little’, ‘Get the Girl Back’ and more recently ‘I Was Born’; have challenged us all to look outside the box in terms of what we ought to believe rock music should sound like. For Hanson aren’t really as popular…I mean they were when songs like ‘MMMBop’, ‘Where’s The Love’ and ‘I Will Come For You’ were in circulation on the radio, but now in 2021, it’s unfortunate that a band that was the pinnacle of the 1990s seems to have faded away now; even though they have released albums steadily throughout their career and haven’t really changed their musical sound or messaging throughout their 25 year run thus far.
They are literally what you’d call an underdog within the realms of music- because they are. Those who have discovered their music and discography are in for a real treat- they were in fact one of the most surprising and left-field artists I’ve explored for my blog series thus far. Now in 2021, and upon the heels of their successful live CD/DVD String Theory back in 2018; Hanson are back, with a 7 song EP titled Against the World. Still delivering their music with their trademark rock appeal, Zac, Taylor, and Isaac have gifted to us, 7 songs of hope, encouragement, motivation, and perseverance, as these songs are very much needed in this uncertain and difficult time of 2021. With songs like the anthemic title track, alongside the rock collaboration ‘Don’t Ever Change’ and the storytelling piece of work (‘Only Love’); this trio continues to deliver heartfelt songs of significance and necessity, as this EP reminds us all, of how we appreciate and respect this underrated band. Maybe they need to record a 2022 cover of ‘MMMBop’ in order to bring new fans in, that can appreciate music that is honest, joyful, happy, emotive, heartfelt, raw, and rejuvenating, all at the same time?
Something unique that this band undertook in the release of this EP Against the World is this- they released 7 songs, one a month, from May til November, so I guess by the time the whole EP dropped just this past week, people would’ve heard all the previous 6 songs to death…and maybe their excitement for Hanson’s whole EP would’ve dropped a bit? People are literally divided as to how to release an album (any album)- do you release singles here and there, do you release next to nothing and then release the album in full on the day, or do you undertake what Hanson did- release songs once a month until release date? Mind you, the songs are released per month, in the order that they are on the track list- so ‘Annalie’ was released first, and ‘Don’t Ever Change’ was next. Maybe I just didn’t really listen to the singles from Hanson when they did in fact release throughout the year, and so when the time came for me to hear Against the World the album, I felt more excitement and intrigue for the EP as a whole, as opposed to someone who listened to each song as the songs released. Maybe it’s just me, but if you actually plan on releasing an album at some point, there can only be so many teasers one can give, because if you give too much, then people would just sample the songs (and then make up their minds if they should purchase the whole thing or not), and if you don’t release enough songs prior, then people would become disinterested in the whole process together. Maybe there’s no right way of releasing an album- and Hanson’s way of releasing Against the World can in fact work pretty well…but only if you don’t excessively listen to songs released throughout the year. Because then, maybe your joy and anticipation level for the EP (or album) would decrease? I know, heavy analysing right now…no one wants to hear that, right? I mean, where’s the ‘review’ of the album, right?
In all seriousness, Hanson’s Against the World is emotive, poignant, compelling, powerful, challenging and encouraging, as all these songs highlight our own innate feeling to want to go through life with a spirit of perseverance and hope, triumphing against our demons and darkness as we press on through chaos and calamity into a state of peace, contentment and being ok with not being ok. ‘Annalie’ is the first track from the EP; and speaks about this issue that seemingly can be given out too flippantly, or not even given out at all- grace. This idea of grace can seem very foreign to people, or it can be misunderstood, and therefore, assumed to be something when it’s not. ‘Annalie’ speaks of this person called Annalie, and how they are far from their home, not where they are meant to be. Living apart from the people they love; and undertaking things that would maybe even drive them further away from family and friends. They are the epitome of someone who may believe that they are too far gone to ever come back and accept the grace that family who love them unconditionally, are ready to give them, without condition. ‘Annalie’ reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible, and how we as people can either relate to two people in the story- the younger son who demanded his inheritance early, and then went out into the world to squander everything he had (and then realised after he blew everything, that he needed to come home and ask his father’s forgiveness), or the older son, who did everything right, who stayed and didn’t ask for the inheritance, who seemingly did all the right things, and then had the gall and audacity to judge his brother for even coming home after abandoning his father, and even judge his father for even accepting him and welcoming him back, full stop. We are either one of these two brothers, and ‘Annalie’ reminds me that this concept and story of the prodigal son, resonates for people within mainstream music as well. Maybe Annalie is a real person. Maybe it’s just a name, and the message of the song (and of the Prodigal Son) still applies. Regardless, Hanson’s first track reminds us of the grace we ought to extend each and every day. The younger son needs it, because he knows he can never repay back the father, the money he ‘stole’ and then squandered. The older son really needs grace, especially when he believed that he was ‘right’ for staying home and being with his father, and that he felt as if he ‘deserved’ all the things that the younger son received upon his arrival home. And we as people living in this world need it- because without grace, there’s judgement and condemnation instead, and we know in our hearts that living without grace is indeed unsustainable. Well done Hanson for such a song that says a lot- definitely one of my highlights on Against the World!
‘Don’t Ever Change’ is the second song on the album; and continues to ride the wave of intentionality and positivity, as this song reminds us all, to always surround ourselves with people that challenge us to be better versions of ourselves than we can ever deem possible by our own strength. In other words, who we are in company with can either push us to become better or worse, in relation to who we know God calls us to become on a daily basis. As Hanson deliver with powerful guitars and a rousing drum beat, a song that has slowly become a powerful standout amongst Against the World as a whole; we see the lyrical message, of how when we find someone that can challenge us to be better than what we were yesterday, then we honour and respect them for what they are able to accomplish in us- change, and good positive change too. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ is asking the other person to keep the accountability that they have with us. The qualities that we see in them that allow us to spur on to better things…we’re asking them not to change that! ‘Only Love’ follows along from ‘Don’t Ever Change’; and allows the song to come to life because of its lyrically rich and powerful verses, where it describes a man journeying through life and in various situations and circumstances that stretch him and have him redefine the word and meaning of love. It is in these situations explored in the verses where this persona of a man was being tested, is what reminds us that in moments in our own lives, we may have to really look at what we believe love is, and what we know love can do. Whether love is just a noun, or love is a doing action. As Hanson themselves describe the song, we see that ‘…this song is a really interesting, one because the song is all about the verses, because the chorus is a very simple thought — the chorus lyric is ‘Only love is gonna save us now, only love is gonna save us’. I really struggled with that lyric as we were all working through the song, singing it over and over again. We completely finished recording the song and then had to change it because something just wasn’t quite right. It was because of the simplicity of the statements. [Because there seems to be a paradox when it comes to the simplicity of the word itself, and the complexity of its meaning] Love is probably one of the most complicated words in the English language because it has so many different contextual meanings or synonyms. Love is often used in context to mean things like mercy or forgiveness or humility or sacrifice. The word does mean all of those things…’ ‘Only Love’ is a reminder that love shows its meaning through the actions that we take to express love to another, and yes, it is through the avenues of humility, sacrifice, grace, forgiveness and mercy, concepts that people would also need to unpack and really sit with in order for the concept of love (not lust, or infatuation, or the warm fuzzy feeling we can have that is fleeting) to become clearer to us all.
The title track ‘Against the World’ is the quintessential version of what a perfect (or close enough to it) Hanson song could be, as we see the band deliver arguably one of the most meaningful songs they’ve ever created in their whole career thus far. The song itself speaks about travelling through adversity with perseverance and tenacity, as we see this world grapple through COVID-19 in such a real, honest, raw, and unfiltered way, as each country learns to cope and deal with the added stresses in life in the ways that they know how. ‘Against the World’ the song, and by a wider extent, the album, reminds us that there are things in this world that we have to fight for, and at times, we may have to take a stand and be up against the world, because there will be some things that this world says that we are, or that we should be, or that who we’re gonna be, isn’t in line and isn’t congruent to what we know we can be and what we know we’re capable of. Because to put it bluntly, there’s what we know we can be because of what the God of the Bible says we are (and what our family encourages us to become)…then there’s what the world speaks over us. ‘Against the World’ can hopefully challenge our own assumptions on what we believe this life can be about, and who we’re actually fighting when we say this phrase ‘against the world’- whether we’re up against the world in a general sense, or some of the things that this world represents.
‘…this project has been germinating for a long time. And even before the pause of the year during the [COVID-19] pandemic, all the songs and the idea behind the project had been in progress. The name of the song was partly the spark for the name of the project, and I think the idea itself — the message — was at the heart of why this title became important. I think one of the most important lines in the lyrics of this song that summarizes the messages is, “These might be hard times, but they’re our times now, it’s just you and me, and us against the world.” It’s saying no one chooses the obstacles, no one chooses the challenges that the world brings, nobody chooses what unknowns will be in front of you, but we choose how we’re going to move forward; we choose how we’re going to overcome, and how we’re going to make the most of that situation. And more often than not, those challenges are what craft us to become the people we ultimately become over time. It’s an interesting message, because the song is definitely about being up against difficulty, but once again, I think this is at the heart of who we are as people. What we’ve tried to project with our career is it’s never been about only talking about positive things — it’s definitely always been a conscious choice to tell stories and talk about struggles in those lyrics, but be looking for an answer, be looking for a way forward, looking for a way through. And so that’s what this one is all about…’
‘Stronger’ is the next track on the EP; and is a piano-prominent melody that speaks about being strong enough to overcome adversity and difficulty- there’s this fight within ourselves to have things all together and to appear strong when we’re trying to overcome challenges, versus us being vulernable and honest and admitting that at times, we don’t feel as though we’re strong, because at times we really don’t. We feel as though we’re floundering, and we may not have enough strength to get back up again. This song really speaks to this notion and issue, of whether being strong is appearing as though we’re strong, or actually finally admitting to ourselves and others, that we can’t make it on our own, that we don’t have the capacity to overcome these obstacles by our own strength, and that real true strength is through the admission that we need help, rather than fooling ourselves to believing that we have things under control…when we don’t. Hanson also delivers the vulnerable song ‘One’, that showcases this theme of conflict, and how we react and choose to behave in these conflict situations will either bring people together in unity or divide people apart. We have this thing within ourselves that charges us to move into situations with this mentality that we always have to be right, never really fully understanding that sometimes the cost of being ‘right’ is often at this detriment of unification, amongst family, amongst a body of believers in Christ, when we dig our heels in and demand that people see things our way rather than being open to someone else’s point of view, we run the risk of shedding the bonds between the people we care about the most…permanently. The EP then rounds out with ‘Fearless’, a song that allows us to take this anthem and allow it to remind ourselves of how we ought to champion and declare things in our lives, but usually at a cost to something that people would expect us to hold up in high regard. For when we take a stand for something, we’re inviting criticism and scrutiny to come, and more often than not, these circumstances require us to be fearless, to not necessarily worry about whatever happens, because we’ve counted the cost, and we’ve made the decision that we can live with, but more than that, we’ve made the decision to abide by our values, ethics, and the way we conduct ourselves in this life. There are always things that we believe that are going to be shaped, moulded, and reimagined as time goes on, but then there’re other things that we hold dear, that we know we can’t compromise on. That is where this notion of fearlessness comes in, and that to be fearless is to be brave, confident, and bold even in the midst of fear. Fearlessness happens not when we realise that we can do everything through our own strength (because we can’t); but occurs when we know that God bridges the gap and undertakes the things that we can’t. We are confident, bold, and brave because of who He is, not because we believe we can do it. Well done Hanson for this EP-ender, and once again, a song that really ties in to what this whole EP is all about- pursuing of truth, unity and life-changing love, undertaken through the lens of fearlessness, grace, poignancy and forgiveness.
Hanson’s career has been a journey of creating songs that delve into the human experience, trying to make sense of topics like grace, hope, forgiveness, and fearlessness. In a music industry that hardly touches on these sensitive topics, kudos for Hanson for deciding to take the plunge and deliver music that allows people to think and ponder about life and all the things that we ought to think about, this side of eternity. An EP that I would argue is the most emotive EP I’ve heard in 2021 thus far (out of any mainstream or CCM artist releasing EPs this year), Against the World speaks about this unity that we once had that is unfortunately dying off in society at a rapid rate. Everyone seems to be against something, and everyone seems to be disunified because they feel within themselves that they have to be ‘right’. Against the World challenges us to extend olive branches and be the better man when it comes to reconciliation between people. Well done Hanson for this EP that is arguably one of this year’s most underrated releases thus far. Looking forward to seeing how I firmly believe the Lord would be using this album to speak to people, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
3 songs to listen to: Don’t Ever Change, Against the World, Fearless
RIYL: Owl City, Backstreet Boys, Westlife, Matchbox Twenty, Kelly Clarkson, Vanessa Carlton