Once upon a time (okay, three years ago), back when they hadn’t yet sold 5 million records and their career decisions weren’t guided by record execs, the Hanson clan worked more like a family than a marketing machine. Which meant that Ike, the biggest, oldest brother, got to be the lead singer, while pre-teen-idols-to-be Taylor and Zac had to, for the most part, settle for backup duty.
Big mistake. On 3 Car Garage — a collection of ”early” songs recorded in 1995 and ‘96 — Ike’s voice is competent but charmless. It’s when Taylor takes the token lead, with his hint of a rasp and intuitive grasp of how to slide around a melody, that the trio is immediately transformed. Suddenly, they sound ripe for major success.
Consider two such Taylor-led tunes, ”Thinking of You” and ”MMMBop,” which would eventually be produced by the Dust Brothers for Hanson’s multiplatinum breakthrough, Middle of Nowhere. Remarkably, both songs sound almost fully formed, like roughly drawn but precise blueprints for their Middle of Nowhere remakes. Sure, the Nowhere versions are slicker (”MMMBop” in particular is much improved by a beefier beat and more sophisticated guitar work), but the vocals, arrangements, and personality are already largely in place. If nothing else, these unpolished but promising recordings prove that Hanson is no novelty act born in a major-label conference room.
But while Garage makes for fascinating history, as a listening experience it’s far less transfixing. Only 3 of these 11 tunes made it onto Nowhere and the rest are woefully full of Ike (don’t get me wrong: I like Ike, just not as a lead singer). Slight songs — like ”Soldier,” a six-minute-plus love story about a toy soldier and a ballerina doll; ”River,” a vaguely religious, organ-driven trifle; and ”Surely as the Sun,” a would-be-soulful ballad in the vein of Nowhere’s far superior ”Weird” — were wisely scrapped.
Why, then, are Hanson and Mercury Records resurrecting them? To make a buck off those 12-year-old completists, of course. For everyone else, Garage would have been best left in storage. C+