No joy in new Jonas Brothers album

June 15, 2009


In these times of harrowing financial uncertainty, most major U.S. corporations are struggling to determine how to stay profitable in the face of a skittish and turbulent marketplace.

In this regard, Disney's reigning teen-pop behemoth the Jonas Brothers is no different than General Motors.

The difficult task of staying relevant with a young audience as it graduates from the Harry Potter books to the Twilight series has challenged every bubble-gum act of the last two decades -- see Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Hilary Duff, etc., etc. But there's an even stronger whiff of desperation with the three well-coiffed brothers from Wyckoff, N.J., since they've already ridden and fallen off this merry-go-round once, having been embraced and then dropped by Columbia Records in mid-decade before the Mouse's Hollywood label finally pushed them to the top of the charts.

On their fourth album, "Lines, Vines and Trying Times," which arrives in stores today, 16-year-old Nick, 19-year-old Joe and legal-drinking-age Kevin trot out every trick they and their handlers can think of to signify a more "mature" collection than the fizzy, sugary, vaguely New Wave pop sets of the past. But instead of a bold next step in their evolution, they wind up with a singularly ponderous and joyless mess.

This album is lousy with heavy-handed horns and pretentious string sections, super-slick production tricks, pointless celebrity cameos (including blues-guitar showboat Jonny Lang and Nick's on-again, off-again squeeze Miley Cyrus) and awkward nods to other genres in an attempt to show the boys' depth and diversity. Witness the country turn "What Did I Do to Your Heart" and the ska-lite of the bonus track "Keep It Real."

Worst of all -- and finding a nadir amid such a festering pile of garbage is no mean feat -- is the attempt to go gangsta rap via the almost comically awful "Don't Charge Me for the Crime." A collaboration with Common, who amazingly tops even the embarrassing pandering of last year's "Universal Mind Control," this endless dud offers one howler after another as the Chicago rapper remakes his masterful "Testify" as a made-for-the Disney Channel TV movie ("The verdict came in and they said I was guilty/I looked at the judge, 'Hey, America built me' ") and the JoBros drop in on the choruses to beg forgiveness ("Don't charge me for the crime/ Wrong place, wrong time").

Sorry, boys, but if you do the crime, you've gotta do the time.

Nearly as bad is the bounty of woe-is-me lyrics about the difficulties of stardom and the women who've done the JoBros wrong. "Now I'm done with superstars/ And all the tears on her guitar," they sing in "Much Better," perhaps nodding to Joe's former girlfriend Taylor Swift, while in "Poison Ivy," our heroes compare romance to an allergic reaction: "I try to scratch away the issue/All I ever get is tissues/I can't wipe away my tears/Everyone's allergic to poison ivy/Everybody gets the itch/Everybody hates that."

Actually, given the fellas' much-vaunted chastity, it's refreshing to hear them admit they occasionally get the itch. But the boys have an unfailingly tin ear both musically and lyrically, especially when it comes to probing their frustrations with the opposite sex.

In recent interviews, the JoBros have said the new album was heavily inspired by Neil Diamond, with whom they bonded at a charity tribute last February. The difference is that Diamond is a brilliant songwriter who decorates his tunes with just the right touch of Vegas schlock, laughing at himself all the while. The Jonas Brothers are never less than super-serious, and there's no hint of self-deprecation. They may have been aiming for the Jewish Elvis, but they come off as humorless Wayne Newton wannabes.

The reason why posters of these goobers adorn the walls of so many teenage girls is obvious, at least if you think for a moment like a teenage girl. But why anyone of any age would want to listen to them remains as big a mystery as any of the shenanigans of the business world. And all we can do is hope they go away as soon as possible.