I have a fairly interesting record to talk about today. I’ll get to that in a second, but first:
David Berkeley: The Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I have no clue what happened to this record. I am going to contact Amazon & see what they say.
The Decemberists: The Crane Wife(Capitol)
I bought this on iTunes a few years back, after the band was brought to my attention by a few different friends. It quickly became one of my favorite albums. When I saw it on vinyl at Newbury Comics a few weeks ago, I had to pick it up.
Above, I said that I had an interesting album for you & I would imagine many of you have forgotten about these guys. By “these guys,” I mean Hanson. Yes, Hanson, the teenagers who sang, “Mmmbop,” otherwise known as the catchiest song on the planet (All jokes aside, they totally own it. They still play it live & nail it with adult voices & insanely tight three-part harmonies). I know what you’re all thinking. Before you click the “back” button, just read this. It won’t take too long.
Anyway, in the wake of their ridiculously huge success in the late 90s & a bunch of corporate firings & mergers, they found themselves on Island Def Jam Records (a hip hop label, of all places). Between 1999-2000, while signed with IDJ, Hanson wrote & recorded their second major release, This Time Around. The label let them record it without to much input from their executives, but made it clear that it wasn’t too keen on the more mature, more classic rock & pop-soul oriented music the band had written. They essentially told Hanson, “Hey, even though you’re older now, you need to keep acting 12, so we can make money,” because Def Jam is a huge label & of course they did.
The album was met with moderate success, but the album didn’t come close to selling the numbers of their first record. After a few weeks, the numbers were crunched, most likely by some high-level accounting executive who had never met Hanson. At any rate, IDJ decided that the band weren’t bringing in enough money & pulled all of the band’s tour funding… right smack-dab in the middle of a massive international tour. Despite this, as a thank you to their loyal fans, Hanson continued to honor their tour dates, despite the fact that Isaac, Taylor & Zac undoubtedly came home with massive holes in their wallets.
Fast forward a year. Both Hanson & the label decided it’s time to give record making another go. Great, right? The band got to write more & the label got to make more money! A win win, fairy-tale ending!
Hold on a second. We’re talking about one of the biggest record companies in the country here, not to mention they were a hip hop label, which, at the time, had no idea how to deal with a rock band.
Beginning in 2001, Hanson presented IDJ with song after song. With each batch of new demos sent to the company, the response from Jeff Fenster* was more or less the same: “You’ve got some good stuff here, but it doesn’t have it.” Three years, ninety rejected original songs, & an incalculable amount of the label’s unarticulated statements as to what “it” was later, an excruciating legal battle took place in order for the band to finally be out of the contract.**
Not too long after, they formed their own record company, 3CG Records. The gamble of their first independent release, Underneath, paid off, reaching number one on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums & number 27 on Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums. Their single, “Penny & Me,” reached no. two on Billbard’s Hot 100 Singles.
Since the release of Underneath, Hanson has put out three more acclaimed records, with Anthem being the latest. It was released on June 18th, 2013, the same day as Stephen Kellogg’s Blunderstone Rookery.
Cover Art/ Vinyl Comments:
Anthem has a pretty straightforward cover, set on a black background. It features Zac, Taylor & Isaac standing next to each other, in the shadows.
The other interesting thing about this record, is that it’s a thirteen song album, but was pressed on two discs of 180 gram vinyl. Each side has three or four tracks. I’ve looked into it & I can’t find any information as to why they do this. The only thing I found was that a lot of modern musicians release their vinyl editions like this.
My personal theory is that in this day & age, people like to skip from track to track, rather than play an album from start to finish. Having three tracks per side makes it easier for the listener to select the track. They only have to take out one record. I’m not claiming this to be the truth, because in all honesty, I have no idea. I can’t imagine it’s more cost effective. If anyone who reads this knows the real reason, please leave me a comment.
Hanson has come a long way since their “Mmmbop” & Middle of Nowhere days. They’ve matured greatly from record to record, changing their sound with each new release, but this one takes a much larger leap. Hanson had a rough time making Anthem & all three members have said that the band’s internal tensions were higher than ever & they butt heads quite a bit. As captured in their documentary, Re Made in America, the band struggled to balance three very different artistic visions for the music. Things came to a boiling point. When the time came to decide whether to call it quits or keep going, they chose the second option, channeling all of the tension into making the best record they could.
That being said, Anthem & its predecessor, Shout it out are two completely different records. They really changed it up, while still retaining Hanson’s signature three-part harmonies & album format. Taylor & Zac take most of the leads, while making sure to leave room for a song sung by oldest brother, Isaac. The tone out of Isaac’s guitar has remained relatively the same, but for the most part, this is where the similarities stop. While Shout it Out his extremely bright, upbeat & piano-driven, Anthem takes a darker turn. The music is much harder & hits you like a punch. The drums pound, the guitar rocks & the piano is buried much deeper in the mix. It’s not quite a sound I expected from them.
The disc itself sounds great. As I said before, it was released on 180 gram vinyl, so it’s durable & less prone to warps. There are a more few pops than I’d like on a brand new record, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Early on, there was a small skip at the beginning of the song, “Juliet,” but that seems to have gone away. There aren’t many other things to say regarding quality.
I liked this album a lot, but that comes with a little reservation. It’s definitely Hanson’s most mature work. There’s no question about that, but something about its darker tone seems to slow it down. I still enjoyed it, even though its darker feel tended to slow the pace down a bit.
“Get the Girl Back”
“For Your Love”
If you’d like to purchase Anthem in any format, you can do so through Hanson’s website, here.
*Fenster was the head of Island Def Jam’s A & R department at the time. I won’t say more because I refuse to give him too much of my time. If you want to know more, you can watch him happily spout on & on about his “musical” & “creative” accomplishments here.
**If you want to learn about Hanson’s battle with IDJ in its entirety, you can download their documentary, Strong Enough to Break, in episodic installments on iTunes, or watch it in the same format here. The film originated as a “making the record” style documentary, but quickly switched gears to become an incredibly detailed documentation of the problems many bands face when dealing with gigantic corporate record labels. You can also buy it on DVD, along with a CD of sixteen unreleased tracks & demos from their merch store.