The Jonas Brothers’ Comeback is a Decade in the Making

Happiness Begins is simply frustrating because of a strong start and a heap of potential, but lazy writing and terrible production and instrumentation drag the album down every step of the way.

The Jonas Brothers are a power pop trio from Wyckoff, New Jersey. While their debut was fairly nondescript and unimpressive, their self-titled sophomore release in 2007 went double platinum and netted them a Grammy nomination for best new artist. They landed roles in the 2008 Disney Channel smash hit Camp Rock, becoming Disney Royalty. They dropped another double platinum record that year and another platinum album in 2009. Their last two records peaked at number one on Billboard charts and they’d had a multitude of massively successful EPs, tours, movies, and music videos. In 2012, however, after several delays plagued work on a new project, the brothers announced that they were leaving Hollywood Records, their tie to Disney, and began a messy, drawn out process of splitting up. Nick Jonas found considerable success as a solo act with a handful of platinum singles while Joe Jonas fronted the group DNCE, honing his power pop chops and dropping a few hits himself. Now, a decade after their last release, the brothers have returned with Happiness Begins which is, unfortunately, disappointing.

The opener and lead single, “Sucker,” raised my hopes quite a bit even before the record has released. Unfortunately, aside from a handful moments on songs like “Trust,” these hooks just don’t appear as much as they need to. While a few choruses here and there are strong, singable earworms, just as many are poorly written and half baked. This is, to be sure, the strongest quality of the album and could make it sound better than it really is when played as wallpaper music. However, the singable sections of these tracks often don’t hold up to closer listening.

Beyond this, the Brothers do show some fairly impressive chops in the harmony department. Songs like “Used to Be,” and “Strangers,” feature tight, three part harmonies which, though they aren’t nearly as prevalent as they should be, are very welcome additions to the sound. Sadly, this is pretty well the end of the line in terms of positive comments on the album.

One bizarrely poor choice comes early in the record with nearly unlistenable, “Only Human,” and reappears only a few tracks later with “Every Single Time.” Here, the Jonas Brothers take their best swing at a reggae style and whiff entirely. Virtually every aspect of these tracks-the poorly mixed horns, the strange inclusion of synthesized steel drums, the awkward vocal performances-is hamfisted and irredeemable.

Lyrically speaking, the entire LP is essentially filler. Songs like “Love Her,” and the closer, “Comeback,” are especially egregious, but I don’t know that I heard one single memorable lyric in the more than 40 minute runtime. Nothing is noticeably bad, but it all feels somewhat lazy and cliche’d.

The instrumentals also leave quite a bit to be desired. The main reasoning for this stems from terrible choices of tone for the synths that drench every track. There’s certainly nothing wrong with using synths for the majority of the record, and in fact I was expecting this in keeping with their more power pop roots, but the tones range from abrasive and odd to just thoughtless and ignorable on a song like “I Believe. On the other hand, later songs like “Rollercoaster,” use terribly outdated acoustic guitars that seem ripped from a Philip Philips album.

Perhaps the first hint that I was headed for a disappointment came with the very poorly mixed drums on the second single, “Cool,” as well as later cuts like “Happy When I’m Sad.” The percussion generally uses boring, nondescript trap drums which simply don’t fit with the tracks what soever, though when a more organic kit is present, it’s devoid of any body or thickness.

This brings me to the most overarching and inescapable critique of this project which comes down to simply awful production. “Don’t Throw It Away,” is unbearably mixed while “Hesitate,” uses a multitude of irritating effects and poorly tuned vocals. I save this issue for last because it is certainly the cause of the majority of the album’s weakness. There does seem to be at least a passable album hidden in here somewhere, but it’s just buried by one awful decision after another and what’s left is unlistenable. I genuinely wanted to enjoy this record, but there just isn’t much there to enjoy.

Happiness Begins is simply frustrating because of a strong start and a heap of potential, but lazy writing and terrible production and instrumentation drag the album down every step of the way.

3/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Danielle Bregoli of “Cash Me Outside” Fame Drops Debut LP Under Bhad Bhabie Moniker

Bhad Bhabie was sanitized, used to push records and provide a platform for other rappers to feature on, and was only let loose once to create one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

     Bhad Bhabie, AKA Danielle Bregoli is far better known as the star of the infamous “cash me outside” meme, which arose from her bizarre appearance on Dr. Phil. After short lived meme fame, however, she began to find success in the rap world, first as the center of a Kodak Black video before signing to Atlantic Records and releasing “Gucci Flip Flops,” the lead single from her debut record, which featured Lil Yachty.

   Her sound is almost exactly what one would expect form a fifteen year old girl obsessed with trap and mumble rap. Her flow is odd and somewhat unnatural, though it can also be fairly described as aggressive. Regardless, this album has a fascinating amount of money behind it, a reasonably star studded feature list, and an x-factor which comes from Bhad Bhabie’s internet fame, so let’s take a deeper look at 15.

   The first and most shocking realization that comes with this project is the competence with which it was executed. Tracks like “Geek’d” and “No More Love,” for example, sport beats which one could tentatively describe as slightly interesting. None of the beats are impressive, but more importantly, never once is this album so bad, from a technical standpoint, that it’s unlistenable. The performances, however, are more of a mixed bag.

   The features list on 15 is impressive for a debut project, but unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to a collection of solid verses. YG’s verse on “Juice,” is a good way to start the album, though he does outshine Bregoli quite noticeably. Ty Dolla $ign, as well, turns in a few respectable bars on “Trust Me,” again, outshining the track’s main artist. After this, however, the quality drops off steeply.

   Asian Doll’s work on “Affiliated,” is one of the most grating sounds I’ve ever heard, and aids this song in gaining recognition as a low point in the runtime, for which it faced stiff competition. City Girls’ work on “Yung and Bhad” is the most brutally flavorless section of the mercifully short song. The worst feature, however, not only lands on what I would tentatively call my favorite track, “Gucci Flip Flops,” but goes to a man who takes this title virtually every time he appears on a record, Lil Yachty. Incredibly, he’s the only person on this album who seems unable to outshine Bregoli, and instead sleep-talks his way through a short 8 bars with lyrics that range from wholly meaningless to just plain unrelated to the track in any way. We, of course, still have yet to discuss the vocals of Bhad Bhabie herself.

   It’s terrible. When she raps, like on “Count It,” or “Bout That,” she seems to be barely speaking English through the single least intimidating aggressive flow in hip-hop history. She also experiments with an auto crooning style of singing that seems to be influenced by the Illinois drill scene. When she does this on “No More Love,” for example, I somehow find myself wishing she’d just go back to rapping, as her singing voice is completely soulless and adds nothing to the track. Nearly every flow she uses can be very easily traced to the popular artist from whom she stole it, with The Migos’ triplet style being the most notable and prevalent.

   The lyrics are actually not horrible, though they were, as with the beats, surely handled by her label rather than Bregoli herself. The self titled intro or the lead single, “Hi Bich,” for example, are fairly well written, though any slightly interesting lyrics are lost in the weak delivery.

   The bulk of this album is inoffensive, somewhat competent, and overall, just average, bad trap music with a worse than usual lead artist. This all goes out the window, however, when it comes the worst song, not only on this album, but of this year, “Bhad Bhabie Story.” This song shouldn’t exist. This song can barely be called a song, and furthermore, I cannot fathom the existence of a person in the civilized world who could listen to “Bhad Bhabie Story,” and genuinely enjoy the experience. Over an abusive runtime of more than six minutes, Danielle Bregoli details the story of her rise from troubled tween to infamous meme to hip-hop superstardom. She does this through mostly spoken word, only rapping for the first minute or so, without breaking for a single chorus, hook, or any other form of respite from this onslaught of Bhabie’s faux-ghetto accent and brutally irritating storytelling. It’s an existentially horrific experience, and I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.

   As a finished product, 15 is disappointingly predictable in every way. Very seldom is there an example so obvious of a large company, in this case Atlantic Records, attempting to capitalize on an aspect of youth culture which they don’t understand in the slightest. I would’ve actually enjoyed the record’s 40 or so minutes a bit more if Bregoli had been simply sent into a studio with full reign to create her own bizarre, meme-worthy, artistic vision. We could’ve got an album version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

   Instead, Bhad Bhabie was sanitized, used to push records and provide a platform for other rappers to feature on, and was only let loose once to create one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

2/10