Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Say this for Hanson--not since vintage Madonna has trifling pop so perfervidly demanded high-powered exegesis. Even disregarding Radish, the competing oil-country teens whose Danny Goldberg fast-track has proven so much muddier, themes and analogies jump off their music like stage-divers. And the opposition shouldn't kid itself--if the music weren't aces, nobody would be bothering. Middle of Nowhere is as expert a piece of product as, hell, Cracked Rear View, only altogether catchier. Having established a market for its pop-soul retro, it will be with us all year and then some.

So what's not to like? The musical marketing. The claims of innocent spontaneity put forth for these ambitious young pros, most of whose wrote-their-owns are cosigned by chief producer Stephen Lironi, his studio henchmen, or song doctors including the notorious Desmond Child, are just image. But as for the vocal overkill all three share with '90s divas from Eddie Vedder to Celine Dion--well, yeucch. Up against the heart-stopping clarity and rhythmic precision of the Jackson 5, who are damn well the analogy (finally white America does the Osmonds right), Lironi's multitracks sound as layered as a $100 haircut, the Hansons' gulps as mannered as a Stanislavski class--or as the decadent Michael J himself. It's fine, if also an arbitrary assertion of taste, to prefer Hanson's blithe representation to Radish's self-conscious authenticity, as long as you grant that it's more like a representation of a representation. Then I'll grant--no wonder Rodgers & Hammerstein liked Oklahoma--that the Hansons' oversinging has some Garth in it. I especially enjoy "Weird"--the one Desmond Child worked on.

Village Voice, 1997