The Arts Desk
The brothers have grown up but unfortunately their music hasn’t matured with them
Can the Hanson brothers ever rid themselves of the shackles of “MmmBop” (the 1997 hit that brought them global renown)? More to the point, should they bother to try? These were the burning questions I armed myself with as I prepared to watch a band whose progress, it’s fair to say, I’ve hardly followed in the last 15 years since their falsetto singing and rambunctious head-banging brought the world such joy. So, having done some serious mugging up, and listened to their back catalogue, I was interested to see where fortune would have taken the clean-cut trio with the flowing blond hair.
As soon as Isaac, Taylor and Zach opened their mouths to chime “Waiting for This”, I discovered they hadn’t travelled too far from where I left them last – cheesy lyrics, fake little-boy voices, lots of drums and guitar solos. The only thing that seemed to have travelled was their enthusiasm, as they played and sang in a robotic fashion summoning a fraction of their earlier vim, as if going through the motions.
Now 26, drummer Zach, the youngest brother, is still the best thing about Hanson
Well, at least they could remember the words. On Saturday “MmmBop” was murdered by Janet Devlin on The X Factor, so it was good to hear it reclaimed with skill by its owners. But as the band rattled through material from their Noughties albums as well as their Nineties hits, the saccharine silliness (which has its place, don’t get me wrong, and of which “MmmBop” is a fine example) seemed to infect their quite marked attempts to go for a less popster, more indie sound, leaving them with an uncomfortable hybrid. Harmonised voices over growling guitar? It worked for Queen, it doesn’t work for Hanson. Admittedly this probably isn’t entirely the band’s fault. Looking around the audience, and judging from the enthusiasm that greeted every track off their breakout album Middle of Nowhere, the fans that have clung on are firm MmmBoppers. Demands for old material that has sold them 10 million albums two decades ago must make moving on tricky. A show of hands when the band asked if anyone had been at an earlier 2011 London gig, revealed that approximately 80 per cent of the crowd had. Firm followers, then.
The identikit tracks came thick and fast. Occasionally there was a surprise – an a cappella chorus (harmonised, naturally), a call for the audience to sing along to the chorus of “This Time Around” (nobody near me knew the words). Playing to an audience of around 2,000 in a curious venue in the interior of the 02 Arena, Hanson seemed dwarfed by the big daddy venue that enclosed them. It probably compounded the fact that they don’t sell out stadiums in this country anymore. Having said this, the group are coming to the end of months and months of touring America and Europe and it may have been the strain of this that dampened their performance. Like the podlings in The Dark Crystal, they seemed to have had the vitality sucked out of them.
Now 26, drummer Zach, the youngest brother, is still the best thing about Hanson. Gone is his Macaulay Culkin cuteness and the braided hair, replaced by a broad-shouldered good-looking man whose beard was the final nail in the coffin, for me, on his 14-year-old image. He and guitarist Isaac dress like they’re trying to belong to Kings of Leon rather than Hanson. On main vocals and keys, Taylor is truer to the original brand, wearing a salmon-pink sweater and neckerchief. The guys are not big on moving about and stay glued to the spot throughout the performance, working up a little sweat on some of the rockier numbers. Their vocals have survived the test of maturity and are only a little growlier. Their instrumental skills are not to be faulted. They played “MmmBop” very well after 18 pretty forgettable tracks, making the pinnacle of the evening bewilderingly predictable. But the fans loved it. I’ve still got “MmmBop” stuck in my head hours later, so they must be doing something right. Better keep those shackles fixed tight.