It's 1997's pop fairy tale: Three young brothers,
raised in Oklahoma on a diet of Time-Life
classic-hits compilations, rocket to the top of the
charts with the most vibrant, buoyant single to
brighten the airwaves in years. But what's most
notable about Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson -- ages
11, 13 and 16, respectively -- isn't that they write
their own songs and play their own instruments. It's
that they've managed to reinvigorate the pop world
without a shred of pretense or irony. If earnestness
has a price, it's $13.99 or whatever your
neighborhood CD store is asking for Hanson's
refreshingly uplifting debut disc.
There surely are savvy record execs out there who
recognized that the pop pendulum was ready to
swing back toward the shiny stuff. And with
occasional guest help from such hipsters as the Dust
Brothers (who produced "MMMBop" and
"Thinking of You") and golden-penned Desmond
Child (who co-wrote "Weird"), it's obvious none of
the suits were taking chances with their hot new find.
But listening to "Middle of Nowhere," you know them
Hansons themselves are just doing their own thing.
With bouncing, can't-miss choruses, airtight
harmonies and love-ya-girl lyrics, the sound is as
jubilant as early Jackson 5 -- and just as catchy.
"MMMBop," which moves to No. 1 on this week's
Billboard Hot 100, is just possibly the most
exuberant top 10 single since Katrina & the Waves'
"Walking on Sunshine" in 1985, with enough joyful
glow to single-handedly wipe out at least two years'
worth of smarmy cool-rock. And the album is
packed with a horde of solid follow-up singles for
summer: "Where's This Love," "Thinking of You,"
"Madeline" -- every one the sort of quick good-time
song that used to be top 40's stock-in-trade. Yep,
it's bubblegum-flavored steak, and it tastes just
You could say Hanson's gift is remembering that
pop doesn't have to cater to convoluted guidelines
about attitude or politics -- that it can simply dig in,
get a crush and have a good time. But the real gift is
that the young group doesn't have to remember
anything. Doing what comes naturally, without any
messy irony, is exactly what Hanson is -- and what
pop music should forever be -- all about.
By Brian McCollum