Lines, Vines and Trying Times (Hollywood Records)
The problem with trying to please everyone is that, more often than not, you end up pleasing no one. On their fourth studio album in as many years, the Jonas Brothers dip their abstinent wicks into a number of different genres, targeting tweens in as many demographic groups as possible. Which means the Disney-approved trio gives us fiddle-augmented country-pop in the form of “What Did I Do to Your Heart”, Stevie Wonder–aping funk on “Hey Baby” (not a No Doubt cover), and weepy piano balladry on “Black Keys”.
Exactly how much of what we hear on Lines, Vines and Trying Times is actually the work of siblings Nick (16 years old), Joe (19), or Kevin (21) is anyone’s guess. Only they and producer John Fields know for sure, but from the super-slick sound of things, it took an army of session musicians and song doctors to assemble this record. (And before you flood the comments section with messages politely requesting that I go die, yes, the Jonas Brothers write and sing and play all their own stuff. Of course they do. But you don’t sound this polished and Disneyfied without a lot of well-paid help. And if you think this is really what a band sounds like, you’ve got some learning to do.)
Sometimes the stylistic pandering is downright ludicrous. “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime”, an attempt at urban grit complete with police sirens and a rap break, is simply embarrassing—especially for Common, who cheapens his brand by lending his voice to the highly dubious narrative.
The boys are better off sticking to what they know. For all its shimmery synths and Wang Chung brass, “Much Better” is a bitter breakup song, clearly aimed at Joe’s ex, Taylor Swift (who, of course, he never boned), whom the middle Jonas reportedly dumped for Hollywood B-list hottie Camilla Belle (who, of course, he isn’t boning). Actually, Joe sounds like a serious prick when he sings “I got a rep for breakin’ hearts/Now I’m done with superstars/And all the tears on her guitar/I’m not bitter/Now I see everything I’d ever need/Is the girl in front of me/She’s much better.”
Well, at least Nick’s a sweet enough guy to make nice with his ex, Miley Cyrus (who, of course, he never boned). The Hannah Montana star turns up to duet on the overblown, string-laden “Before the Storm”, which seemingly details their (boning-free) relationship.
That one’s not much fun, but “Poison Ivy” sure is. The song gets a little tedious when the horns kick in during the second half, but until then, it’s a crunchy power-pop number with a sneering and subtly suggestive (but chaste) chorus, the likes of which Cheap Trick would probably trade its Dream Police platinum records for.
The angsty “Don’t Speak” (not a No Doubt cover) is also worth a listen, mostly for its soaring title refrain, which should have young girls the world over swooning as they gaze longingly at their Camp Rock locker posters.
If the bulk of Lines, Vines and Trying Times doesn’t live up to its best moments, it’s because the Jonas Brothers or their handlers put too much effort into appealing to the broadest possible audience instead of sticking to what works for them, which is straight-ahead pop. Will they learn from their mistakes before their fan base grows out of its mouse ears? The clock is ticking”¦
Download this: “Poison Ivy”