Earlier this month, when it was announced that Tinted Windows—an ostensibly-super-group featuring Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, The Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos and Taylor Hanson (for whom my inner twelve-year old still carries a brooding, awkward torch)—didn’t just exist but indeed had songs and a MySpace and SXSW dates (you know, all the things that real bands have) I thought it must be a joke. When I watched the promotional video I became reasonably sure that it wasn’t a joke, but even more desperate to be wrong: The songs were tinny and vapid and somehow more insufferable than the video’s creepy host, and seemed sure to draw the ire of the now-grown-up versions of all the kids who so fiercely mocked me for my Hanson-love in middle school.
But not only is Tinted Windows not a joke, the band’s also been really well-recieved so far, buzzing the crap out of SXSW and faring fairly well in music’s oft-nasty little corner of the Internet. (Stereogum’s post about the group, for example, features some of the most enthusiastic comments I’ve ever seen from the blog’s usually-snarktastic readers.) So I’ve backed down, given the songs a few more tries, and might come around. Eventually. Maybe.
Still, I sense that much of the band’s appeal right now is the strange notion of Taylor Hanson as a glowy-faced rockstar making somewhat exciting music—which would indeed be shocking if you, like many, wrote off him and his brothers as mindless bubblegum pablum circa summer ’97. Anyone who stuck around, though, knows that Hanson’s catalog is hardly limited to the earwormy madness of “MMMBop.” From Middle of Nowhere, the brothers’ platinum debut—on which the trio wrote or co-wrote and played instruments on all the songs, all before then-thirteen-year-old Taylor’s voice had even cracked—to their most recent album, 2007’s The Walk, track after giddy, soulful pop-rock track blows Tinted Window’s as-yet-sparse offerings right out of the water. Here are fourteen of the best, compiled with help from my fellow resident Hanson apologist, associate editor Kate Kiefer.
1. “A Minute Without You” (Middle of Nowhere, 1997)
Older brother Isaac, usually relegated to harmonies and guitar duties, was given this one moment to shine on the band’s Mercury Records debut. “MMMBop” and “Weird” were my favorite tracks at the time, but this one had aged a little more gracefully.
2. “If Only” (This Time Around, 2000)
Taylor does the “tortured crush” thing really, really well, and perhaps nowhere better than this bouncy song. That’s John Popper of Blues Traveler lending some really frantic harmonica to the proceedings. (Shut up—you love Four, too.)
3. “This Time Around”
One of my very last acts as a dedicated, active Hanson fan was to obsessively call my local radio station and request this song every evening during the week it was a contender in the station’s nightly “battle of the hits.” I was in the 9th grade. One of my awkward exchanges with the DJ was broadcast on-air, with my name and everything; I’m still hoping no one at school heard it.
4. “Runaway Run”
Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was briefly drafted to produce This Time Around, and though he was eventually bumped from the project, his brief involvement might explain why this song’s opening guitar riff sounds almost exactly like that of “My Best Friend’s Girl.” I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing.
5. “In the City”
A pretty intense little freakout. MMMparanoid, much?
6. “A Song to Sing”
No Tinted Windows song will ever get this earnest, so bust out the lighters and sway along while you can. Sing it, bros. Sing it.
7. “Wake Up” (Princess Diaries Soundtrack, 2001)
That little mandolin riff is just as brief and glorious as Robert Schwartzman’s acting career. Oh, swoon.
8. “Penny & Me” (Underneath, 2004)
Sweet odes to girls with singable names was Hanson’s stock and trade early on, though they’ve largely given up the ghost after all getting married and commencing to pop out babies. Still, they went out on top with this one, their would-be comeback hit and probably their best single to date.
9. “Get Up And Go”
The line “she’ll work it out until she makes the tips” was enough to have me convinced for years that this song was about a stripper. I was very wrong, so the song’s a bit less scandalous than I once thought—but no less catchy.
An early visit from the bleach-blonde, pleather-clad, rocker-chick muse that would later descend upon Tinted Windows.
11. “I Will Come To You” (Middle of Nowhere and Best of Hanson Live & Electric)
This is Kate’s favorite. The 1997 original is sweet, but has a really schlocky synthetic drum beat; this live version is much better, though it admittedly lacks the weirdness of a thirteen-year-old boy singing about dying souls. Listen to those screams!
12. “Rock N Roll Razorblade”
Despite the unfortunate, goofy lyrical association with rollerblading, this song is a pretty solid flip-off of the major-label music industry machine that kinda chewed Hanson up and spit ’em out barely alive in the early ’00s. More satisfying than their documentary on the same subject, to be sure.
This is the band’s first single to feature younger brother Zac on lead vocals. “Go if you want to go / stay if you want to know”—leave it to these guys to deliver pure ambivalence with such searing vocal passion. Weirdly, I’ve heard this song on multiple occassions at multiple Ross Dress For Less locations. I don’t know what that means.
14. “Blue Sky”
Hanson may very well have written my favorite U2 song of the past ten years. [Insert “Oh, snap!” here.]