After 30 years (yes really) of performing together, many bands might have run out of ideas by now – but that’s not the case for Hanson. Brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac have continued to push boundaries with their music, taking approaches such as reworking their classic hits with an orchestra on 2018’s ‘String Theory’ and releasing a single a month to build the ‘Against The World’ album in 2021. Now they’re back with ‘Red Green Blue’, which sees each member of the trio take the lead on one section of the record.
The 16-track album kicks off with ‘Red’, which is led by Taylor, and right from opening track ‘Child At Heart’ you sense this is going to be a very different feel for the group. The song starts with a focus on acoustic guitar and Taylor’s uplifting, hopeful vocal, before bursting into a huge anthemic chorus with layers of strings and piano, as well as his trademark high notes. I also loved the vulnerability and openness in the lyrics, which are enhanced by the demo of the song that follows it and offers a glimpse of the process of making the record (not least with the kids in the background!). It’s a great introduction to the project and is going to sound fantastic live.
Elsewhere in ‘Red’, ‘Rambling Heart’ shows the band’s country side, with twangy, lively guitar and vivid imagery of life on the road alongside a soaring, harmonica-laced chorus, before coming back down to earth with detailed depictions of a lover’s face. It pairs nicely with the next track, ‘Truth’, which sees Taylor reflecting on life (‘lost myself looking out the window’) and offering plenty of good life advice, along with one seriously impressive note!
Meanwhile, there’s effects aplenty on the 80s-tinged ‘We Belong Together’, with its sense of celebrating being here and holding on through darker times and a chorus-like feel from the backing vocals, that feed in nicely to closer ‘Semi Hollow’. The song starts with rattling, almost metallic drum effects before bringing in a bluesy organ and retro horns on the chorus. There’s a sharp, more clipped feel to Taylor’s vocals, and a really good balance of playfulness and honesty in the bittersweet lyrics. As the song cuts out at the end, it leaves you feeling like there’s a distinctive break in the sections but also excited to see what’s coming next.
That break provides a great segue into ‘Greener Pastures’, the first track in ‘Green’ which Isaac leads. Whilst these transition moments could quite easily feel disjointed, here the band makes it seem effortless, helped by the use of similar instruments from the previous track. Nevertheless, the song still has its own unique style, building a groove that contrasts the soul and richness in Isaac’s voice as well as a bit of gravel later on. It has a timelessness to it and a great sense of connection as well – you really feel that it’s coming from the heart.
If I had to use one word to sum up the five songs of ‘Green’, it would be ‘growth’, with ‘No Matter The Reason’ being a particularly strong example of that. The introspective song sees Isaac reflecting on the ups and downs of a long-term relationship and remaining steadfast whilst continually trying to do better. It’s full of emotion and to me almost felt like it could be a cut on a long-lost country album from many years ago. Similarly, the wistful ‘The Gift Of Tears’ puts the emphasis on Isaac’s vocals, which really shine through the song’s message of having faith and coming back to yourself. Whilst it would be easy to go big on a track like this, its more subdued feel only adds to its power, particularly in the a capella ending.
However, there’s also still time for some fun, joyful moments, such as the driving, piano-led ‘Write You A Song’ (written for Isaac’s daughter who makes an appearance at the end), which has a lovely sunny vibe to it and is simply constructed yet packed with details. ‘Cold As Ice’, which concludes the section, has an organic jam session feel about it, littered with whoops, classic song references amid its contrasting lyrics, and encouragement from Isaac for Taylor to ‘do more percussion’. It definitely finishes the segment on a high note and is something I’d love to see them explore more of in future.
Perhaps the most surprising of the three sections for me was Zac’s ‘Blue’. The first of his five tracks, ‘Bad’, put me in mind of early Maroon 5, with a slightly darker feel than the other two segments from the off due to its echoing effects and edge of defiance in his voice. There’s a real sense of drama and fierceness about the song and an immediacy that perhaps isn’t as evident elsewhere, but that really showcases this as being very much his own thing and makes a strong statement.
That said, ‘Blue’ also features some mellower moments, such as ‘World Goes Around’, a laid-back pop-influenced number with a big singalong chorus, choir-like harmonies and an emphasis on keeping your head up, as well as smart songwriting. Ballad ‘Wake Up’, meanwhile, showcases a softer side, with drum and keyboard effects blending with a sparse, yearning vocal from Zac that tugs at the heartstrings before revealing a twist in the bridge. It’s a really moving song with plenty of warmth and one of my standouts on the album.
After the high-energy ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ featuring Zach Myers, which puts a different spin on the ‘go for your dreams’ message alongside classic rock riffs, distortion and a call-and-response shout, ‘Blue’ – and the album as a whole – concludes with ‘Where I Belong’. The opening lines seem to echo back to the lights going down after a show, but also to the sense of loneliness we’ve all felt sometimes on our darkest nights (figuratively and literally). There’s a real rawness to Zac’s vocal as he delivers the song, with the harmonies and piano making it feel like something from an old movie – particularly when the big drum rolls and strings kick in, along with a chorus that alludes to ‘Over The Rainbow’ – but with an extra spin by adding some psychedelic elements of vocal echo and a switch to bold piano chords midway through. Although melodically the song ends on a bright note, the searching feel of the lyrics gives you a sense it’s not over yet and very much stays with you afterwards.
Overall ‘Red Green Blue’ feels like Hanson’s strongest piece of work to date. It captures all the qualities that fans love about the band – strong harmonies, stellar vocals, clever songwriting and great musicianship – whilst also having a distinct personality in each section and showcasing the brothers’ range and ability to take on a variety of styles. When I spoke to Isaac and Taylor recently, they both said they hoped that the record would act as something of a reintroduction to their sound whilst keeping some familiar elements, and they’ve definitely managed to pull that off. Here’s to the next 30 years!
Track listing: ‘Red’ 1. Child At Heart 2. Child At Heart (Demo) 3. Rambling Heart 4. Truth 5. We Belong Together 6. Semi Hollow ‘Green’ 1. Greener Pastures 2. Write You A Song 3. No Matter The Reason 4. The Gift Of Tears 5. Cold As Ice ‘Blue’ 1. Bad 2. World Goes Around 3. Wake Up 4. Don’t Let Me Down (featuring Zach Myers) 5. Where I Belong Record label: 3CG Records Release date: 20th May 2022
See Hanson live on the RGB Tour in the UK this summer:
26 June – Rock City, Nottingham
28 June – SWG3 Galvanisers, Glasgow
29 June – O2 Ritz, Manchester
30 June – Roundhouse, London
2 July – O2 Academy, Bristol
3 July – Leeds University Stylus, Leeds