Sounds like … highly produced and exciting pop/rock for tweens, often reminiscent of Cheap Trick, Maroon 5, The Rocket Summer, and The Beatles
At a glance … the Jonas Brothers have come a long way in developing a catchy pop/rock sound that can appeal to kids and adults alike, though they still have a ways to go in crafting meaningful lyrics that go beyond superficial relationship songs
A lot can change in just a few years, especially for those young artists in the tween music scene who seem to grow up all too quickly. We don't publish a list of the year's worst albums, but if we did, Jonas Brothers' 2006 debut It's About Time would have been included. Since it never released properly, the album was considered both a critical and commercial failure, marking the end of the trio's short-lived contract with Columbia/INO Records. But today it sells well on eBay, thanks to the Brothers' explosive success, including high-profile tours (like opening for some girl named Miley Cyrus) and the Platinum sales of their considerably improved self-titled follow-up through Hollywood Records.
Now comes album number three, and if you had told me back in 2006 that the Jonas Brothers would draw glowing reviews from Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and critics in general, I'd have said you were losing touch with reality. Yet things have changed with these guys, and not just the voice of 15-year-old lead singer Nick. They've taken another big step forward with A Little Bit Longer, to the point where this album is night and day compared to the first. Based on how quickly the Jonas Brothers have grown, they could well evolve into something more than tween pop further down the road.
For now, it's still tween pop—we all know it isn't innovative or creative. Kids seem to like it, parents often tolerate it, but most adults are bewildered by it. Still, while innovative sounds and introspective songwriting are fundamental to great art, sometimes good pop music should be appreciated for what it is. If the music sticks with you and makes you want to bob your head or sing along, then mission accomplished, right?
That's the case here. The music is catchy, energetic, and above all, lots of fun. Though he's still got a little bit of that boy-band whine in his voice, Nick has developed into a good rock singer, not too dissimilar from Bryce Avary of Rocket Summer fame. His older brothers Joe and Kevin aren't too shabby either, and considering that they all play much of the guitars and keyboards heard in the mix, they're becoming better instrumentalists as well. Top that off with first-rate production again by John Fields (Switchfoot, Miley Cyrus) and you have a polished sound that combines catchy melodies with rock attitude. It may be fluff, but it's irresistibly sugary fluff.
Note the comparisons to Cheap Trick in Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone—they're not just blowing smoke. It's hard to miss the similarities to Robin Zander and company in rockers like "Shelf" and "One Man Show." There's also a clear maturation in sound to "Can't Have You," and though "BB Good" is a bit corny, it's still hard to resist. If nothing else, BB sure to catch "Lovebug," which begins as a charming acoustic strummer that's very Beatles (or at least Paul McCartney), only to explode into '70s rock bombast. If the Jonas Brothers keep going down this path with future releases, I may have to consider myself a fan.
They're not there yet, though. Good and fun as it all is, this remains sugary fluff with virtually no protein. Lyrically, there's nothing much beyond an endless parade of songs about infatuation, romance, and breakups—it doesn't take long before it all begins to sound monotonous, not to mention shallow and superficial. At least it's relatively wholesome for the target audience, though in some instances, I can understand parents getting upset over a line like "All I want to know is do you want to get away/Get away with me" from "Got Me Going Crazy." Or "Burnin' Up," when the guys sing "High heels, red dress/All by yourself … Who turned the temperature hotter?" Adults will likely read more into these lyrics than kids, but it's still one step further than what many Christian parents would deem acceptable.
Too bad these pastor's kids sing about little else beyond broken hearts and burning hormones, though their spiritual beliefs do pop up in a few instances. "Tonight" attempts to reconcile a fight with a girlfriend—if not before the sun goes down, then at least before sunrise after talking it through. The synth-drenched ballad "Sorry" is also a plea for forgiveness in a relationship. But perhaps the greatest example of lyrical maturation comes from Nick in the title track's piano ballad, written as a hopeful response to his struggle with diabetes: "Waitin' on the cure/But none of them are sure … So I'll wait 'til kingdom come/All the highs and lows are gone/A little bit longer and I'll be fine."
Like most albums, A Little Bit Longer will depend on the listener's tolerance of teen pop conventions, both musical and lyrical. Don't go into this album looking for deep Christian truths, because they're not here. But those who appreciate pop for pop's sake may be pleasantly surprised—tweens, teens, and even adults. Honor is due to the Jonas Brothers because these guys have come a long way in a short time. But it's all too clear where they need to grow next. Imagine how much better the Jonas Brothers would be if they applied their fun sound to something more meaningful, and perhaps even spiritual.
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