Released in tandem with an Amazon Studios documentary, “Chasing Happiness,” and its emotional, rags-to-riches tale of fraternity gone asunder (then, obviously back to brotherly bliss, again), there are many things to be learned from “Happiness Begins,” the first new Jonas Brothers album in 10 years.
The band’s fifth studio album, and its first unified effort following 2009’s “Lines, Vines and Trying Times,” proves Kevin, Joe and Nick never lost the familial vibe — harmonic and intuitive — that came from growing up and bedding down in cramped quarters. The same soulful domesticity that charmed Disney listeners in the days of “Camp Rock” and “Year 3000” is gloriously intact in the present, despite Nick and Joe having dicked over Kevin over for a time surrounding their initial breakup. Watch the slick and exquisitely paced-for-maximum-impact documentary and you’ll actually hate the other two bro-singers for making Kevin sad.
Then again, it is exactly such dramatic ire that gives the new and improved Jonas Brothers’ “Happiness Begins” its much needed edge and oomph (say, on the over-not-over, sorry-not-sorry lyrical twists of “Happy When I’m Sad”). Because, oddly enough, if you reached under the slickly painted hood of smash albums such as 2006’s “A Little Bit Longer,” you found a damned fine, quirky power-pop band, a Raspberries with richer harmonies, sharper lead vocals and epic contagion as its principle weapon.
What the Jonas trio have become — mostly — on their newest album is a less complexly melodic, nu-soul unit more in line with Nick Jonas’ solo career and minor hits of his such as “Jealous,” with touches of Joe’s weird disco outfit, DNCE, for good measure. Rather than find tight, crisp, new wave pop as an album’s signature, “Happiness Begins” gives the listener relaxed-fit funk and brushed cottony electro-soaked R&B to go with its pop DNA.
Think three maxed-out Zayn Maliks, or Hall & Oates updated for the Ryan Tedder set, and you’re halfway there when it comes to the fine, refreshed Jonas-es. Oddly enough (not really), it is the songwriter, producer, and singer of OneRepublic, Tedder, behind the knobs and sleek twiddlings of “Happiness Begins.”
With fellow producers Shellback (from Ariana Grande and Maroon 5’s camp) on “Only Human,” Greg Kurstin (Paul McCartney, Pink) on “I Believe” and “Every Single Time,” and a mini-slew of smash hit scribes, Tedder and the songwriting Jonases craft an hermetically sealed and soulfully poptimistic work that compels you to respect the J-Bros beyond their past Disney-fied boy-band successes.
Calling “Happiness Begins” soulful doesn’t mean their album lacks for the Jonases’ usual new wave power pop floss. The slow, jacked-up synths of “I Believe” — Nick’s love note to bride Priyanka Chopra — is as much Yazoo-y as it is Drake-ian. (Joe gets his own love letter to wife Sophie Turner in the hot house “Hesitate.”)
Each dense poppy layer and texture of “Every Single Time” is so rich and sweet, this reviewer was in a cocoa-sugar rush by tune’s finale. The ever-so-slightly Auto Tune-provoked “Cool” and its mix of gorgeous harmony vocals, fuzzy guitars and down-tempo pulses could be the best male impersonation of the best that Taylor Swift has to offer. Even the clickety clacking “Sucker” with its whistles, buzzes and bounce is as much old school David Essex as it is minimalist nu-dance music.
“Happiness Begins” is not an album without clinkers (the saccharine “Strangers”) or flatlines (the so-so “Love Her”). Then again, the low points are so few-and-far-between that they’re nearly forgotten once you get to the zesty, one-two punch finale of “Rollercoaster” and “Comeback.” For each hotly produced track tells a tale as torrid as it is tragic with romantically reminiscent takes on what it genuinely (aw) means to be a happy family with as many bumps and bruises as it has harmonies and victories.
Yeah, the Jonas Brothers are back, and just in time to show the BTSes of the world how it’s really done.
The Jonas Brothers