Middle Of Nowhere

WATCHING THE VIDEO for Hanson's No. 1 single "MMMBop"--where the three cute Hanson boys (ages 16, 13, and 11) cavort Monkees-style through teenland--you can almost hear all the greasy-haired, angst-ridden alterna-kids across the country groaning. And don't you just love it? After buying into Bush and Alanis Morissette, it's just what we deserve: Hanson is Silverchair by way of the Partridge Family, the first pretty-boy fake alt-rock group that doesn't pretend to be anything but.

But as it happens, Middle Of Nowhere--the debut album from Tulsa brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zachary Hanson--is noteworthy for other reasons as well. At their best, such as on "MMMBop" or "Thinking of You," Hanson makes perfect '90s bubblegum: Jackson Five voices offset by slick power-pop guitars and the sharp hip-hop production care of the Dust Brothers. Even the more questionable material, such as the Velveeta-flavored ballads "Weird" and "I Will Come to You," is, at worst, music for, about, and by the pubescent set. Lyrics like "When you live in a cookie-cutter world if you're different you can't win/So you don't stand out and you don't fit in" sound a lot more palatable coming from a 13-year-old as opposed to a puerile post-grad. In fact, given the age of the writers, these words are pretty darn sharp.

Granted, these lads had homework help with both the songwriting (including vets Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) and instrumentation (a full cast of session men) on Middle of Nowhere. Still, as young writers and musicians with an indisputably authentic three-part harmony, Hanson is as real a band as it needs to be. Real enough, at least, to be a perfect antidote to MTV's other poster boys--the decidedly less fun Marilyn Manson.

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