I don’t feel myself today...
Thanks for joining me for the next installment of this series! In celebration of their 25th anniversary as a band, Hanson is releasing their very first Greatest Hits Compilation, while I am working backwards through their six major studio albums and exploring why we love those three brothers and the music they make so much. We’ve already covered ANTHEM, SHOUT IT OUT, and THE WALK, so now it’s time to travel back three more years. In April of 2004, Hanson released their third major studio album, and their first as an independent band. UNDERNEATH.
It’s no secret that Underneath is my favorite album. The record turned 13 this year, which is a sobering fact considering I was 13 years old when I first heard it. If someone asked me the one album that affected me the most in my whole life, I would say Underneath without hesitation (it's my favorite era too...yes questionable hair decisions and all). I know, I know...I said that these posts weren’t going to turn into a personal sap fest, but I can’t separate this particular record from what was happening in my life at the time so...here goes...Underneath was released almost exactly one year after my father passed away. My dad’s death has shaped my entire life. Everything I do, every choice I make, every word I write, every weird compulsion I have has been colored by the fact that I woke up one morning in 2003 to find my father dead on the couch. After that day, my brain shut off for a little while. For nearly a year, I walked through life with wool wrapped around every sense. I can’t remember most of my eighth grade year. I was too young to be feeling this crushing sadness, so instead of dealing with it, I just kind of...shut down. And then...I heard a song called Penny and Me.
Close our eyes, pretend to fly
It’s always Penny and me tonight…
I knew about Hanson before, and I had both of their previous CDs, and I enjoyed seeing them on TRL (they were young and making music! I was young! I frankly wanted to be them). BUT, as someone who had spent nearly four years being mercilessly teased for being such a huge Backstreet Boys fan, I tried to keep my love for anything under lock and key (being young is weird), and it wasn’t until I heard their new single that I realized it was done...this was it...this was the one. I’ve never been able to write about this outside of the context of fiction so, I’ll let a little excerpt from that novel I wrote do some of the talking:
“I just...I’ve never really talked about it like this to anyone. Anyone outside the fando-- the people I know from...my friends who also love them. It’s just...kind of overwhelming, I guess. Okay. So. A few months after...everything happened...I heard their song on the radio. So. My dad died, of course, we all know that. Do you want to know something crazy? I didn’t even cry at the funeral. I cried the day it happened, of course, I mean shit I sounded like a dying cat screaming all the way down the street. I threw things, I smashed a glass against my wall and then had to clean it up. But by the time we were in that church, I didn’t cry. I barely even remember it. And I definitely don’t remember the rest of the summer or even school the next semester. I was in a fucking daze. I couldn’t...I felt like my peripheral vision was gone or something. Nothing made sense. English sounded like jibberish and….yeah. So I heard this song on the radio one day after school and it was like I woke up. I felt like I could see again.”
I’m not trying to pretend like at 13 years old I understood every single lyric of this album, or even every lyric in that particular song. I was still incredibly young and confused and intensely sad. But I do know that I understood something about it, and it seemed to understand something about me. A few years later, Taylor would have a daughter and actually name her Penny, making the song mean even more to me. Now it wasn’t only just a song about having adventures with someone you love (who you may or may not imagine as your father in the driver’s seat), but now it was colored even more with father/daugther imagery. It was now inevitably about his daughter, every time he sang it. My dad and I never just ran errands or took trips...we went on adventures. We would drive forever with the windows down and the radio up, him at the steering wheel, me switching gears for him. He never shut me up when I started aimlessly babbling about the things I loved. He would look over at me with a sparkle in his eye that made me believe that I could fly...not just pretend to. Which is why, no matter what happens, Penny will always be my song.
Waking up this morning thinking this can’t be real
But they say there is nothing love can’t heal...
Underneath is an emotional album. The boys were going through a lot with their label and their personal lives, and you can hear that in every lyric and every note in these songs. Even the lighter songs are full of friction and strain. It’s the first time you listen to their lyrics and you can’t help but notice that they are wise beyond their years. When You’re Gone and Underneath take my breath away with their images of grief and struggle. It was the only thing I had ever heard, up until that point, that sounded like I felt. I remember listening to Broken Angel for the first time (and crying, of course) and thinking “Wait...this is the kid that wrote Wish I was There?!” Something had changed. The intense pressure they were under from Island Def Jam, paired with the freedom they gained when they were strong enough to break and start their own label, created this incredible, passionate, visceral collection of songs that you can tell they still love to play.
The crazy thing about Underneath is that it includes a very small fraction of the songs they wrote during that time. They were constantly churning out music, sending it to IDJ and hoping something would stick. They were being led around by these music industry professionals, forcing them to go through every single obstacle imaginable until finally they had enough. And so, 3CG Records was born. While it is their lowest selling album, I know they still consider it a huge win for them as a band, and for us as a fanbase. We stuck with them and they stuck with us.
I’m a musician, so I’m the first to admit that the production of Underneath is...pretty sloppy. Which, at 13 I didn’t even know what that meant, so I didn’t care. But now, I’m knowledgeable enough to know that it’s not a terribly polished record. It’s something I can forgive, due to the fact that I...love it forever and always, plus it took them nearly four years to make so of course there are going to be some inconsistencies. They worked with so many different people, and wrote so many songs...it’s really no wonder that the album is a bit of a patchwork quilt. But, almost all my favorite Hanson songs live on this record so, it’s mismatched quality is something I will never seem to mind.
This album has been with me through...well..exactly half of my life at this point, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it. My relationship with Hanson is complicated (I have dead dad issues, so the fact that they are all fathers to beautiful children makes things pretty confusing). I know that I kept my love for them so close to my chest for so long because I was terrified of losing anything that was good in my life. I know that I rely on these three men because when I was twelve, all the men in my life died within the span of a month. And I know that might not be too terribly healthy, but I also know that anything that makes me as happy as I am when I hear the opening chords of Penny and Me can’t be anything but healthy. This album taught me that even when you feel the walls close in, you can still be strong enough to break. It taught me that sometimes nothing is gone, but something is missing, and it’s okay to grieve. It taught me that crazy can be the same thing as beautiful. It taught me that happiness is just a step away. It taught me to listen. It taught me to believe.
Peace, Love, and walks on the wild side,