Growing up is hard to do, particularly if you do it in public. Hanson found this out when their second album, 2000's This Time Around, failed to gather much attention, let alone a hit the size of 1997's "Mmm-Bop," even though it was a solid step forward. Faced with lack of success and therefore a lack of support from their label, Hanson opted for the independent route, founding 3CG and releasing their third proper album, Underneath, in the spring of 2004. If This Time Around found the group undergoing growing pains, Underneath is the maturation of Hanson, scaled down and serious, pitched halfway between the adult alternative pop audience and the power poppers who embraced their giddy early singles. Giddy is hardly a word to describe this album, however, since there's an earnest even-handed approach even on the tunes that veer toward effervescent, hooky pop, such as the catchy "Get Up and Go." This deliberate maturity isn't a detriment, since it emphasizes the pop/rock classicism that's always been at the core of their music; after all, one of the charming things about Middle of Nowhere is how it was clear that the trio's tastes were built on Time/Life's oldies collections. Even though Underneath is a little too polished and Pro Tool-ed, that pop sensibility still rings loud and clear throughout the album, and track for track, it's likely their strongest album, even if it lacks glistening highlights along the lines of "Mmm-Bop." Despite this, the brothers are strong pop songwriters -- there's a reason why the likes of Matthew Sweet and Gregg Alexander of the New Radicals collaborate with them on this record (on "Underneath" and "Lost Without Each Other" respectively) -- and what makes Underneath a better album than This Time Around is that the focus remains on the songs, with the melodies and hooks pushed toward the center. There is a bit of a dichotomy here, as the sound of the record is targeted toward adult alternative airwaves and the trio's writing is closer to power pop, but it's a pleasing dichotomy since the two aesthetics wind up complementing each other. Hanson might be a little bit better off if their production wasn't as rigorously crafted as their songs -- they would be a little more exciting, a little more fun if they loosened up a bit -- but that's a minor complaint, since Underneath is a satisfying album that finds the trio confidentially stepping into adulthood.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine