Despite pop music's notoriously high infant mortality rate, it's clear that Hanson, Oklahoma's "MMMbop" phenoms, will be around for a while cranking out solid if hardly compelling discs like "Underneath."
On their first studio release in four years, siblings Taylor, Isaac and Zachary sound like they're still experiencing growing pains, still striving to claim the title of grown-up indie label pop-rockers. "Penny & Me," the first single from the CD, quickly scaled the charts a few months ago thanks to a savvy mix of soaring harmonies, neo-psychedelic washes and, not surprisingly, Taylor's blue-eyed soul vocals.
In fact, as long as Taylor is singing lead, the vocals on "Underneath" never present a problem, even when the keyboardist is burdened with such head-scratching lyrics as: "We just play like broken records in a deaf man's charade." Hmmbop.
His finest moments comes on "Crazy Beautiful," a comparatively straightforward, brass-augmented love song that occasionally brings the Waterboys to mind, and on the exuberant, latter-day funk romp "Hey." But because this is a family band, not a meritocracy, guitarist Isaac and drummer Zachary also get a chance to sing lead, triggering lulls minor and major. Isaac's turn on "Deeper" is graced by harmonies from Hanson die-hard Michelle Branch, but there's no redeeming "Broken Angel," which Zachary delivers in an anguished and unconvincing croon. For the most part, though, Hanson displays plenty of personality and craft -- enough to keep "Underneath" from bottoming out.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Thursday at the Warner Theatre. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Hanson, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)