Critics' Picks


Hanson has nothing more to prove, really. If a band's fate is to be a one-hit wonder, it's to their everlasting, heavenly glory to have that hit be one as transcendently, joyously dumb as "MMMBop." Now, three years later (two lifetimes in teen boy-band years), they make their somewhat predictable cred move with This Time Around. It's sad, because "MMMBop" was so very everything, but their too-little-too-late follow-up just falls flat.As an actual band of actual brothers -- not a Svengali-manufactured product like their boy-band competition -- it's strange that Hanson felt the need to trumpet the hoary "we wrote all the songs" line. Especially with this batch of standard, factory-issue Hits of the New Millennium. Listening to the 13-song CD straight through is like a particularly dull hour of The Merge's "coolrocksmartpop." There are healthy servings of zesty, manly Latino rhythms, rock moves of both woozy bluesiness and feckless bubblegrunge, some Blues Traveler hippie-pop lilt (but with the winning scabrousness shaved off), and of course, some slow, sad ones, heavy on the piano. They also made sure to pepper the whole thing with random turntable scratches here and there -- if only to remind us all what side of rock's great generational divide they stand on.

For all the hype about how Hanson learned to play by listening to a Time-Life history of rock, sadly there's nothing here to suggest that these talented magpies know anything beyond pop-rock radio of the past 12 months. Oh, there are small pleasures here and there, and as painstakingly crafted for modern radio as this disc is, it's a rare track that doesn't sound better the third time than the first. By the fifth, though, after you've squeezed out surface pleasures like some finger-popping rhythms and the sinuous turn of whoever-is-singing-at-the-time's voice, things get grim.

Not that it will matter in the end, but if more sensible people were choosing the first single it would have been the sprightly, eminently hummable "Runaway Run" or the heartfelt "Love Song," instead of the ponderous, soul-rock posturing of the title track. Hearing these talented youngsters emulating other talented youngsters, as on the Jackson 5-channeled "MMMBop," was charming and thrilling. Hearing them emulate grizzled, over-50 rockers Aerosmith on the album-closing power ballad "A Song to Sing" is just depressing.

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Brian Doherty