From the Record Crate: Hanson – “Middle of Nowhere” (1997)

By | May 6, 2017

The Young Folks

Twenty years ago, three young boys in a family band called Hanson made pop culture history when they released an album that featured a hit called “MMMBop.” Brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac were all under the legal voting age when they released their debut studio album Middle of Nowhere after two previous indie albums.

Produced by the Dust Brothers, Middle of Nowhere went four times platinum, sold ten million copies, and yielded three Grammy nominations for the young musicians, including Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance. The success of Middle of Nowhere launched Hanson’s career globally and contributed to the bubblegum pop boom of the late ‘90s.

Since Middle of Nowhere was released so early in Hanson’s career (Isaac was sixteen, Taylor was thirteen, and Zac was eleven) topics on the album trend towards the young and naive–which is absolutely not a negative, since their main fanbase was made of tween and teenage girls. Songs like “Speechless” take on relationships with a hint of funk inspiration, while the ballad “Weird” discusses how everyone feels like they don’t fit in at one time or another. The schmaltzy “I Will Come to You” explores the bond of friendship with some serious “That’s What Friends Are For” vibes.

You can’t talk about Middle of Nowhere without talking about what started it all: “MMMBop.” Their lead single from the album–and most successful single to date–reached number one in twenty-seven different countries at the height of its popularity. If you were coherent during the late ‘90s, chances are you’ve come into contact with this bright, upbeat track that is so often mistaken for a song made of pop-y nonsense.

While the chorus might not be made of definable words, the verses explore keeping the things and people that matter close to you, since life can be so fleeting. Originally, “MMMBop” was a slower ballad, but morphing it into one of the ultimate examples of bubblegum pop is what skyrocketed it to the top of the charts and made Hanson stand out at the time. As Entertainment Weekly put it in their review, “‘MMMBop’ isn’t some rocker-rock novelty. It’s fully realized pop that just happens to be sung by kids, and the same goes for Hanson’s equally yummy debut album, Middle of Nowhere…there’s something utterly natural and unaffected by it.”

Those who only remember “MMMBop” might mistakenly label Hanson as a one hit wonder, and they would be wrong. Their second single “Where’s the Love?” hit multiple Billboard charts and is still celebrated today. While not a single, “Look at You” is a fun, funk-inspired song all about dancing that has energy rippling off the chords.

One of the strongest songs on the album was originally a hidden track on the CD, taking its place after eight silent tracks. “Man from Milwaukee” is an upbeat, slightly silly rock song about meeting a man who thinks aliens are going to abduct him. Inspired by the band breaking down near Albuquerque and seeing alien tourist paraphernalia, the track has a super catchy, rhyme-ridden chorus. Considering “Man From Milwaukee” shares album space with infamous earworm “MMMBop,” this is saying something. These tracks helped to round out the album and earn a stamp of approval from Rolling Stone, who said, “You don’t have to be a Bop magazine subscriber to fall for the cheesy bounce of ‘Where’s the Love’ or “Man from Milwaukee.’” Their energy and uninhibited enthusiasm made a name for them in a jaded music market.

Of course, certain songs don’t quite hold up the way others do. Album opener “Thinking of You” feels kind of outdated; Taylor’s vocals edge too close to whining on this love song and don’t age as well as some of the other songs.  Listening to serious ballad “Yearbook” nearly made me laugh out loud. This thoughtful ballad about wondering where someone missing from the yearbook went is hindered by the inclusion of dramatic renditions of yearbook-isms at the opening like “See you in September” and “You’ve been a great friend to me.” Even with these, you can’t deny that Middle of Nowhere is a dynamic pop rock debut that deserves its due.

 

Yielding a still-existing fan club, two documentaries, multiple tours, and a host of unauthorized biographies, Middle of Nowhere launched Hanson to worldwide popularity, providing for a fanbase that is still intensely active today. In addition to their contribution to the pop culture pantheon, Hanson continues to maintain their record label 3CG Records, release albums, sell out concerts–and even brew their own beer. They’re a stellar example of successful–and adaptive–musicianship and business sense, and it couldn’t have happened without the success of this album.