Hanson – String Theory (Album Review)

If for some reason you have missed the past 26 years and still believe that Hanson is a one-trick pony, this week’s release is going to be an eye-opener for you! The double CD, String Theory, highlights the Grammy-nominated Pop Rock trio at their finest hour, and it arrives this Friday, November 9, 2018, thanks to the boys’ own label, Three Car Garage.

With eight full-length studio albums, 12 EPs, 5 compilations, 3 live collections, 2 Holiday offerings, and a partridge in their pear tree, Hanson know a little something about recording music. The brothers have enjoyed a two decade-plus career in Pop Rock, one that has seen them attaining Multi-Platinum status, nominated for a Grammy, traveling the world, and accruing a legion of highly-dedicated and adoring fans. Not bad for a band of Oklahoman brothers – Multi-Instrumentalists Isaac, Taylor, and Zac – who began their recording careers while teens!

For String Theory, Hanson bring together 23 tracks on 2 CDs: a collection of their best and brightest – including the hit singles “MmmBop” and “Where’s The Love” – along with several new and/or previously unreleased tracks. Collaborating with Academy Award-winning Composer, Arranger and Conductor David Campbell (Adele, Justin Timberlake) and a 46-piece orchestra, the brothers inject a new vitality into their older material while presenting some new gems for fans to cherish.

Appropriately, they open String Theory with piano and delicate strings that weave into the previously unreleased “Reaching For The Sky (Part 1),” a Billy Joel-esque storytelling session that sees the brothers going for a candid intimacy that sets the tone for what is to follow. This segues beautifully into the brass instrumentation that adds a funky twist to “Joyful Noise,” a jubilant celebration of dancing to the music that originally appeared on the 2016 Play EP.

If you remember the deliciously dance-able Pop sensibilities of “Where’s The Love,” one of the band’s earliest 1997 hit singles off Middle of Nowhere, you will be excited to find that this new arrangement highlights the brother’s magnificent vocal harmonies, and there are moments that feel a little Big Band, making this a decidedly triumphant retelling of a classic bubblegum track. This flows perfectly into the orchestration that leads the cinematic sweep of the new offering “Dream It Do It.” While the vocals are not as strong here, the band and the orchestra are allowed to truly shine, and the track never suffers.

Arguably the trio’s best-known song of all time, 1996’s “MmmBop” receives a largely acoustic reimagining that, like “Where’s The Love,” highlights the brothers’ wonderful vocal harmonies. This serves to bolster the track on the whole, making it something much more than just the bubblegum Pop that it originated as. Next, they go for a bold Broadway opening to “Chasing Down My Dreams,” from the 2012 EP, No Sleep for Banditos. Here, the vocals strain to match up with the grandiosity of the music, but the retelling is still enjoyable, with moments of whimsical instrumentation.

IN 2013, Anthem was a pivotal release for Hanson, and they represent that collection for the first time here with “Tragic Symphony.” The song receives a funktastic, sultry retelling that paves the way for the jazzy Salsa qualities of “Got A Hold On Me,” off 2007’s The Walk, where one can almost envision Santana joining the brothers on-stage for a jam session. This is followed by another oldie but goodie, the poignant piano of the magnificent “Yearbook,” an emotional storytelling jaunt that combines those to die for vocal harmonies with stellar sonic craftsmanship.

They weave a spell with the brand-new “Siren Call,” a cinematic sweep that alternates between languid verses as well as hot-stepping choruses, and then 2010’s Shout It Out is represented by the bittersweet lament of “Me Myself and I.” A weeping cello weaves throughout the core of the song, which receives a splendid new arrangement that allows for a candid intimacy, a private moment where the trio can confess their struggles and promise to soldier onward. It’s a stand-out from Hanson’s oeuvre of material and that’s no different here: they give the song a beautiful re-imagining that allows their sincere talents to shine.

A  twinkling piano creates a waterfall of sound that opens into “Reaching For The Sky (Part 2),” a short little interlude that moves the boys into “This Time Around” – the title track from their 2000 release – where piano anchors another storytelling session that explodes into the brothers’ funky, infectious vocal chants. This continues into “Something Going Round,” off The Walk, which sees the trio unleashing their soaring vocal harmonies with an extra fierce grit to perfectly contrast the accompanying strings.

Brand-new offering “Battle Cry” sparkles around a steady beat, marching the band into the cello and bass introduction to Anthem’s “You Can’t Stop Us,” an outlaw stomp of cinematic proportions that sees Hanson embracing their inner-Dukes of Hazzard. Next, from 2004’s Underneath, “Broken Angel” reaches beyond fairy tales to paint a delicate sonic picture that sounds like a child’s lullaby. Somewhat similarly, a steady beat anchors “What Are We Fighting For” – originally found on Middle of Nowhere – a track that takes on a whole new meaning in our current hate-filled, political times.

Previously unreleased despite being unofficially leaked, “Breaktown” has a massiveness to its sound, one that highlights the brothers’ stellar vocal harmonies and their gritty lyrical storytelling talents. It is, however, a bit repetitive and not as strong as some of the previous tracks. Whatever the case, they move forward and inject more funk into 2016’s Loud EP selection “No Rest For the Weary,” a good ‘ole jam session of melody.

There’s a whisper-soft quality to the vocals on the first verse of “I Was Born” that allows the choruses to truly pop, giving the track a larger than life quality befitting of its original locale, 2017’s Middle of Everywhere: The Greatest Hits. As they begin to wind down to their conclusion, Hanson go for a more electrified sound on the infectious “Sound of Light,” which originally appeared on the 2013 EP of the same name. Ultimately, they end with another Anthem selection, a more electrified, bluesier “Tonight.”

Hanson fans are guaranteed to erupt with glee for the beautiful String Theory, and while other music lovers are likely to appreciate the band’s wonderful musicianship and storytelling abilities, a double-album might be a bit overwhelming for the casual Hanson listener. Therefore, String Theory is very much a gift to Hanson’s dedicated, die-hard fan-base who have given the brothers’ talents a nurturing home for the past two decades.

In their best moments, Hanson utilize their voices to tell stories set to their talented musicianship and inspired new arrangements and, in these retellings especially, always highlight their exquisite harmonies. On String Theory, they dream big and reach for the stars, delivering a massive collection that is guaranteed to be a joy-inducing stocking-stuffer for fans this Holiday season. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Hanson’s String Theory 4 of 5 stars.

Purchase String Theory:

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  • It should be remembered however that, even though Hanson has been doing music since technically November 1991, most of the world only became aware of them from 6 May, 1997… although their first radio play was in March (I believe the 24th) 1997. While most of the world may have wondered what happened to Hanson after 1997 (ie 21 years and not 26), they did chart on a major label again in 2000.

    • I don’t disagree with any of this information, Robyn, but Hanson have been making music for 26 years. Whether or not anyone was listening is not up for me to decide, though we both know that they have many, many fans who know that they have continued to record regularly since 1997, quite regularly. When I state that a band has been around since x-year, I just mean that this is when they began – not when people began listening. 🙂 But thank you for the thoughtful comment and for reading! 🙂

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