Reunited Jonas Brothers Revel In Camaraderie on ‘Happiness Begins’
A decade after their last studio album, 2009’s “Lines, Vines and Trying Times,” the Jonas Brothers are back at it, reunited and revitalized. A largely celebratory release, the record sounds like the effort of musicians who have had enough time apart to thaw and ultimately rekindle lost connections. The songs are consistent in spirit with everything Nick, Joe and Kevin are known for, still sounding very Disney at its core. Musically, the trio dart in exciting new directions, drawing especially heavy influence from reggae and ‘80s pop. The most striking quality of the album is how consistently joyful and fresh it sounds, befitting its title, “Happiness Begins.”
The album starts off strong with lead single “Sucker,” such a streamlining of sunny pop that it’s no surprise it debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. There’s a giddy whistled refrain, a punchy guitar riff, and effortlessly relatable lyrics that capture the sensation of falling head over heels, like “I’ve been dancin’ on top of cars and stumblin’ out of bars.” If there’s any drawback, it’s that so many pop instincts are so heavily concentrated in this single track that it’s hard to imagine where the album will go from here. In a good judgment call, the next song “Cool” switches up the pace rather than attempt to ride the wave. A laid back, beachy cut, it’s a song about nothing more than simply feeling cool, and reveling in that feeling. When Nick name drops classic icons of “cool” like James Dean and Jane Fonda, it’s hard not to sense an absence of the mystique that such culturally loaded references conjure, in the context of this song’s relatively generic, contemporary songwriting and production. But that’s hardly an issue.
The band settle further into summery vibes with “Only Human,” a reggae-derived number with a chirpy steel drum melody, and lovably carefree lyrics like “Dance in my living room.” This type of beaming exuberance lends itself readily to eighties sounds, so it comes as a natural segue when the band retract to that era on “I Believe.” It’s a sonic space slightly out of their usual realm, but one that they pull off perfectly, retroing the era in very much the same way as Carly Rae Jepsen on much of her latest album “Dedicated.” For the next song, “Used To Be,” Kevin has cited Post Malone as an influence, and although the connection isn’t exactly in your face, it makes sense. The track runs over a hi hat-heavy hip-hop beat, and features a brief Auto-tune snippet in the chorus. Malone too often gets lazily tossed into a general rap category, when he’s, in fact, a remarkably versatile artist, whose music eases the crossing of paths between isolated genres. A group as alien to his general sphere as the Jonas Brothers takes this worlds further, and is testament to a somewhat unprecedented synergy in the contemporary popular music landscape.
“Every Single Time” ties together a lot of the sonics running through the album — reggae stylings, blissful naivety. It’s a bit like a millenial take on the Police, and one of the catchiest songs on the record. “Don’t Throw It Away” comes across as if written with the ambition of creating the most farcically ‘80s song ever, and succeeding. At this point, all the upbeat ecstacy can start to get a bit maddening, and the brothers have placed a pause in the form of “Love Her.” Unfortunately, the song has little to offer other than an unadulterated sappiness sure to produce cringes and rolling of eyes in all but the least worldly and unanointed souls of the world. Consequently, the buoyant “Happy When I’m Sad” strikes as a welcome return to form. For a band that’s hardly known to dabble in irony, this song is something of a bold move. Disney Channel graduates and pristine pop stars, it’s only natural that the Jonas Brothers feel the pressure to always put on a happy face for the camera, and the ebullient musical stylings of this song, fitted to the sarcastic titular phrase, capture the sentiment effectively.
Joe Jonas puts on a serious falsetto for “Trust,” sounding a bit like Justin Timberlake at moments, and making for a track quite unlike anything else on the album. Nick sings in his usual tenor timbre, and the interplay between the two voices is a dynamic display. The lyrics “I don’t trust myself when I’m around you” are consistent with the album’s recurring theme of lovedrunk helplessness. “Strangers” is a condensed pop encapsulation, a bit like the opening track in that sense, but with the breezy cool supplanted by grand romantic gesture. “Hesitate” is a return to the whining aesthetics of “Love Her,” but thankfully more palatable this time. A song written by Joe for his wife, actress Sophie Turner, it’s hard not to appreciate in the context of the newlyweds’ shining spotlight. “Rollercoaster” is a bit of a left turn, with the band attempting to mix country stylings with EDM production in the vein of, say, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” but coming across as a bit forced.
“Rollercoaster” was created for the band’s recent documentary “Chasing Happiness,” and is effective for that purpose, with lines like “I would gladly get back on that rollercoaster with you again.” This segues neatly into the final track “Comeback,” a song with open ended lyrics that could apply equally to a romantic relationship and to the brothers’ journey as a band. While it has its peaks and its troughs, “Happiness Begins” is altogether an exceptional album in how it captures three brothers in a band, sounding like they are actually enjoying themselves. There are a surprising number of stylistic detours that keep the music interesting, and simultaneously enough of the band’s signature stamp to satisfy old fans.