Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: The Jonas Brothers, "Lines, Vines and Trying Times"

There are three utterly fantastic songs on the new Jonas Brothers album. That is not to say the rest of the record is crap, or that there's anything particularly unusual about good songs on a Jonas Brothers album -- their last LP "A Little Bit Longer" was sort of remarkable, and better than this one, and was a better and more convincing try at power-pop than anything that's come out of International Pop Overthrow, possibly ever. It's just to say that there are three songs on the record that oughta knock you out if you're open to such things. They are these: "Paranoid," which is maybe my favorite song this year so far, and has a hook as big as the wide open spaces, "Much Better" which is as good a take on the 80s as anything M83 is doing (seriously), and "Don't Speak" which is called out in the liner notes as the group's try at a Muse song and is better than anything on the last Muse LP, easily and handily.

What is kinda remarkable, though, is that these songs, and most of the other songs on the record, are written by the group. Didn't know that? S'true. There's a couple co-writes from local producer John "Strawberry" Fields, who has become the sound of Teen Pop America, but you can hear an actual *songwriting voice* from these kids, who aren't even out of high school, mostly. You can mock 'em if you want, and you will, but let me know when you come up with something as good as the hook on "Much Better," okay? Good luck on that front.

I mean, though, is this a great record? No, it isn't, but it sure as hell has its strengths. As I mentioned, their last one, "A Little Bit Longer," actually was a great record, filled to bursting with some utterly bubblegum punk-pop and a few magnificent ballads. This one's a try at a more "serious" sound, which for some odd reason means mentioning Neil Diamond a lot in the liner notes (!) and adding a Chicago-ish horn section to most of the songs (!!) and a little bit of misguided funk that brings the record grinding to a halt (!!! -- Common appearance FAIL). I usually hate "serious sound tries" -- especially from bubblegum groups, that's the kind of wrong-thinking that leads to records like "7 And The Ragged Tiger" (sorry, Jess, that's their worst album).

But even though there's a few monumental stumbles, and more than its share of okay-to-awesome filler (I'm quite fond of "What Did I Do To Your Heart" which sounds oddly like a Shania Twain choon by way of Mutt Lange, which is never a bad thing, and the Miley duet on "Before The Storm" is pretty good too) the mere fact that there are three songs on here -- hit singles all of 'em, I betcha ten bucks -- which actually knock me on my ass and make me wanna play 'em multiple times says something. Or other. About the nature of bubblegum music, probably, and how it's usually more important/more interesting/a better gague for where music is going/should go than so-called "indie rock" which is too apt to disappear up its own ass most of the time to do anything interesting. Gimme a good HUGE SINGABLE HOOK ANY GOD DAMN DAY over, y'know, a Modest Mouse song or something. Or something about how "Red Light, Green Light" is better than CSN. I dunno. You know what I'm getting at, I don't wanna spell it out, I'm way to under a sugar-high from listening to this stuff.

It's immaterial, really. What's important is that there are three unbelievably killer songs on this record, and even if you're not a thirteen-year-old girl, you might like 'em. Why the hell not? Closest correlate: the Osmonds, and you'd do well to check THAT stuff out too.

(addendum: I'm pretty sure the ballad "Black Keys" is awesome too. It's a slower burn than the others, but upon second/third listen, its kinda kicking my ass.)