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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Maren Morris Gives Her All on Mixed Sophomore Project

GIRLS is at times fun, at times disappointing, but at every turn frustratingly less than what it could have been.

Maren Morris is a pop-country singer from Nashville, Tennessee. She debuted with a self-titled EP in 2015 which found massive success and put Morris on the map and landed her a deal with Columbia Records. The EP was rereleased on the label with yet another wave of positive reception and kicked off a tour as a supporting act for Keith Urban. In 2016, she released her debut LP, Hero which was yet another impressive success. The album peaked at number five on the Billboard charts and netted four Grammy nominations including Best Country Album and a win for Best Country Solo Performance on “My Church.” Early this month, Maren was announced as a third member of the supergroup, The Highwomen, joining forces with Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires with a fourth slot filled by a revolving door of women, including Sheryl Crow and Margo Price among others. With her career booming, Maren Morris’ second LP, GIRL is here, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

It’s clear from the first moment that Morris is perfectly willing to experiment on this project. The opening title track and the closer, “Shade,” are especially notable, both for their genre-bending styles and their fairly unique chord progressions. She’s certainly not reinventing the wheel, but what small risks she does take pay off thanks to a full commitment on each cut and the refreshing nature of hearing a new idea in modern, mainstream country.

Melodically, this album is extremely listenable. Tracks like “Gold Love,” or “To Hell & Back,” will be stuck in your head for days thanks to Maren’s ability to write extremely singable vocal lines. While much of the instrumental work behind her is a bit cookie cutter, Morris’ work picks up much of the slack.

This brings us to what is, by far, this records strongest quality and, at a few points, its saving grace. Maren Morris’ vocal performances are purely excellent. Even on a relatively silly song like “The Feels,” every second is believable because of her passion and energy. The same is true for “Great Ones,” later in the tracklist. Yet again, we have a song that is fairly forgettable if not for the powerful and dynamic voice leading it.

This being said, much of the record comes up mixed for me and the lyrics are one such area. Perhaps the best song on the entire project, “A Song for Everything,” is exactly what I ask for from this kind of an album. We have a unique theme, a few quirky turns of phrase, and an overall fun listen. Much of the album, however, feels somewhat lazy and rushed, with several lines coming off as cheesy and shallow.

Instrumentation, on the other hand, is almost uniformly weak across the entire runtime. Aside from the Brothers Osborne feature on “All My Favorite People,” essentially every other second of the album is completely uninventive and thoughtless. “Make Out With Me,” is likely the worst offender here as its structure seems to evoke the kinds of lush, orchestral arrangements of artists like Amanda Shires and Sturgill Simpson, the actual education just leans on a boring, shallow synth and a few cheap sounding violins.

Even worse than this is the production. Tracks like “Flavor,” and “Good Woman,” feel totally lifeless, not to mention the poorly placed effects. This is especially irritating on a song like “Common,” where strong lyrics and a fairly enjoyable Brandi Carlile feature are ruined by flat mixing and boring production.

Branching off from the production comes the record’s worst quality: the over reliance on bottled, looped drums. This is a pervasive trend across country music, largely driven by acts like Florida Georgia Line, in which a real drummer is replaced with computerized drums. The goal is to save money and modernize the sound a bit, but instead it sucks the life out nearly every track on which it’s tried and the same is true for GIRLS. “RSVP,” and “The Bones,” are especially egregious, but nearly all of this album suffers as a result of this choice.

All in all, GIRLS is a fun listen. It’s a good sophomore project for Maren Morris and she puts in quite the effort, but it’s undercut by a lack of such effort from everyone else involved.

GIRLS is at times fun, at times disappointing, but at every turn frustratingly less than what it could have been.

4/10