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