Play is the second half of the Loud/Play LP Hanson dreamed up for this year’s releases. We received Loud as the year’s member EP back in May, and that review is coming later. New music always takes me some time to process, and I’m rarely up to making much objective sense on the very first listen, or even actual words in some cases, and certainly not criticizing. I have to listen in a quiet room with the lyrics in front of me, and take the release out for a drive, and play out the earworms, and give it a break and come back to it, and sometimes even make other people listen with me before I really can nail down what I think, and the review I would have written for Play two weeks ago is not the same review I would have written last week or this one. I’m still not off the new music high yet, but I’m getting there.
“Do You Believe In Love”: First Hanson covered The Darkness, now they’re covering Queen. Okay, not quite, and they could have drawn inspiration from far worse places; the current pop charts could practically be subtitled Music Made for Morons by Robots Trained By Monkeys. This song is fun and catchy, but definitely not simple; I still keep getting tripped up singing along even though we’ve had this one for two months, now. The lyrics seem to have evolved a bit since May, and I like the contraction of the chorus even though the crowd part feels a little out of place by comparison.
“Freak Out”: EPs seem to be an outlet for poppier, dancier songs than make it to albums, and perhaps that was what Zac meant in his blog post about going with songs that wouldn’t happen in another setting; this harkens back to “Ooh La La La” and “Dance Like You Don’t Care” for me, but better. Isaac stands out on this year’s releases in ways he hasn’t on others, and I wish I were hearing more of him and less of Zac during the chorus. Like Loud, the Isaac lead gets the title line, or that’s what I’m going with; this instance feels more relevant to the spirit of Play than the ones in “Feeling Alive.” And am I missing something, or are there no horns? I only hear some things that sound like they wanted to be and weren’t. If so, I want to give them props for resisting the urge. Horns aren’t quite down there with kazoos and Mariah Carey, but they aren’t a lot better.
“Man On Top”: Wait, what are we listening to? Anthem? No? Oh, okay. But seriously, the EP takes a turn for the serious here (unless they’re being sarcastic, but that’s likely giving them too much credit) and I can’t give this song its due. I’ll probably come around to it later and spend a whole afternoon with it on repeat when I do, but this didn’t really grab me at Hanson Day and hasn’t since the release, either. Maybe because it’s sandwiched between two other songs I like a lot more, or maybe because the dripping ego and almost direct contradiction to “Feeling Alive” don’t do it for me. I have a feeling this is the one they’re going to play to death live; I can already picture Taylor rockstarring around with the tambourine upstaging Isaac.
“Joyful Noise”: Most likely to provoke random tears in the car. Not that I’d know anything about that. This song sounds deceptively sweet and happy, and the syrup is covering up the bite of the lyrics that hit home the hardest: “Everyone has struggles, but when the music stops they seem to double so turn it up. . .” This quote joined my monitor Post-it collection, and the song joined a (weirdly meta) playlist I’ve got that somehow covers how I feel about music in general and Hanson specifically. One of the things I really actually love about them (and I do not throw that word around lightly where they’re concerned) is that they get it. They get not just the pleasure of driving around with the windows down and the music up, but that music is also a need to be satisfied wherever we can find it.
“Feeling Alive”: I’m not sure why, but this didn’t make much of an impression on me at Hanson Day. I was expecting something after the earworm the September 30th stream spawned (I watched several loops, cursing the future release date the whole time), but I was not expecting Zac’s misguide vocal and what sounded like the drum part of “Every Word I Say” to become this anthem for standing for what you believe in. Taylor songs tend to have these complicated lyrics, sometimes to excess, and this one is no exception — I wouldn’t be surprised to find out a few of those misguide vocal lines ended up in the final recording.
A side note on download quality: initially, I thought Play only sounded a little muddy when I turned it up all the way on my computer or phone and adjusted the volume on speakers or car stereo. (I can normally do this with CDs I’ve imported to iTunes and they sound clear.) Then I put Play side by side in a playlist with Loud, which I imported myself from CD back in May. I’m withholding full judgment until the vinyl record comes since Zac did say Play was meant to be less intense, but based on what I have, the difference is palpable; the bass especially is gone.