The Disney Channel Original Television Show Jonas is god-awful, even compared to the network’s other paltry offerings. The Sprouse twins, Demi Lovato, and Miley Cyrus somehow redeem their absurdly undemanding shows through their palpable ambition and lack of shame endemic to the child actor type. In comparison, the titular brothers of Jonas are downright calcified. All three mediocre-at-best actors, the elder Kevin and Joe at least gamely perform the slapstick gags, obviously aware of their limited tween-pop shelf life. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Jonas Brothers mastermind Nick absentmindedly lurches through his performances, knowing full well that even with two Rolling Stone covers under his belt, no band with a regular Disney show will ever be credible to, like, anybody. And of course Nick wants credibility.
So far the JoBros’ forays into film and television have been (excepting perhaps the Demi Lovato vehicle Camp Rock) flops. The Jonas Brothers: the 3D Concert Experience movie tanked at the box office in February, and even the children who comprise Disney’s core audience find Jonas lacking. So now, only ten months after the commercial breakthrough of their A Little Bit Longer album, and five months after the soundtrack for the 3D Concert Experience, the Jonas Camp is circling the wagons with a welcome return to recorded music. So we have Lines, Vines and Trying Times, the brothers’ fourth proper studio album. Team Jonas must demonstrate the band’s continued commercial viability after the embarrassment of the 3D Concert Experience while simultaneously showcasing the group’s maturity in order to continue to appeal to the rapidly maturing and (out)growing fan base. Jonas Mania is in its death throes, but the brand must soldier on.
Maturity here is signified by a labored eclecticism. The basic power-pop instrumentation of “A Little Bit Longer” is augmented by strings and unspeakably cheesy horns. Ham-fisted, Neil Diamond-worthy horn charts ruin the otherwise innocuous album-opener “World War Three” (not a political statement, just another would-be breakup song). The boys try their hand at soul on the abysmal, Stevie Wonder tribute “Hey Baby”, and an even worse foray into something approximating gangsta rap on “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime”, featuring Common, of all people. The canniest eclectic digression comes in the middle of the album when the JoBros dip their tows into the dependable country music market with the catchy “What Did I Do to Your Heart” and the dull Miley Cyrus duet “Before the Storm”, obviously taking their cues from Bon Jovi’s similar, ultimately lucrative 2006 venture with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles.
There are, of course, a few unadorned power pop songs, such as the irritating “Poison Ivy” (somewhat of a milestone as the boy’s first even oblique acknowledgment of sexual frustration) and the frivolous bonus track “Keep It Real”. Unsurprisingly the album’s two high points are also the most effervescent. Lead single “Paranoid” rides an understated Rick Ocasek-type groove, easily superior to the camp of any previous JoBros release. The album’s best track, “Much Better”, blatantly rips off the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and features the boys’ most candid lyrics yet: a blatant rebuff of Joe’s ex Taylor Swift.
As a piece of product, this album modestly accomplishes the goal of keeping the Jonas Brothers name out there, reenergizing the fickle base. But as an album, it is a failure, weighed down by the painfully bland production and a team of uninspired professional songwriters who add little to Nick’s developing skills. Unless the Jonas Brothers are able to hire a better producer and pen more consistent material, their albums will never be more than the transparent product their handlers clamor for. Until the JoBros enterprise becomes less profitable or, better yet, Nick goes solo, product will continue to win out over credibility.