“Happiness Begins” is the first Jonas Brothers album in a decade. Even so, the now-grown Disney Channel heartthrobs’ presence has remained ubiquitous — Joe Jonas’ pop-funk group DNCE dominated the charts following the release of the single “Cake By The Ocean” and Nick Jonas’ 2016 solo pop record had numerous successes, including “Champagne Problems” and “Close.” But the new album is largely a return the group’s classic sound.
The brothers Kevin, Joe and Nick, ages 31, 29 and 26 respectively, first rose to prominence after being picked up by Disney Channel. But unlike many of their fellow Disney Channel stars, the Jonas Brothers were always musicians first, actors second, setting them apart from the majority of Disney stars whose musical talents, if they may be called that, are discovered only after acting in major roles. The Jonas Brothers have always had solid chops, even if the music was geared toward adolescents.
Considering other boy bands like One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer, who owe much to the brothers, the Jonas Brothers more seamlessly transitioned away from enforced innocence to appeal to a broader audience. Joe’s innuendo-filled and delightfully fun DNCE project and Nick’s provocative Calvin Klein campaign, as well as his solo work, have opened the two up to a larger fan base, particularly among gay men in Nick’s case. He certainly gave Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes’ recent underwear campaigns some healthy competition. The new album is very much caught it in the middle of these various worlds and feels like something of a compromise between them: boyishness, sexual innuendo, pop, funk, pop punk and a lighthearted attitude.
The lead single “Sucker,” which opens the album, is a catchy pop-rock track that makes much use of Nick’s signature whiny falsetto. And it is more a remodel than new construction. It would be equally at home on the group’s 2009 album “Lines, Vines and Trying Times.” The song debuted at no. 1 on Billboard, fueled more by nostalgia than innovation.
The single “Cool,” which follows “Sucker,” largely falls much into the same camp, a good tune that adds little new. Both singles seem to reflect a strategy to appeal to the group’s traditional fanbase. The album is somewhat frontloaded with songs that remind us who the Jonas Brothers were. But one can’t help but wonder what else the group is capable of. Fortunately, the album is quick to answer.
“I Believe” marks a turn in a more interesting direction on the album. The synth-heavy, harmonically dynamic track is a fantastic example of the group’s new direction. It is an impeccably good pop song and one you won’t regret leaving on repeat. To be sure, the apex of the album.
“Every Single Time” is another synth-heavy, up-tempo track that is on the slightly more innovative side. “Used To Be,” a more generically pop song, and “Don’t Throw it Away” seem to be the bridge between the more traditional sound of “Cool” and “Sucker” and the more up-to-date tracks like “I Believe.” And most of the album works to find a balance between the old and new of the Jonas Brothers. It’s a first foray into new territory that leads longtime fans by the hand. In that respect, the album is a big success, and bodes well for the brothers’ musical future.
Toward the tail end of the album comes “Rollercoaster,” another fast-paced anthem designed, no doubt, with DJs and dance clubs in mind. And while the song is decidedly contemporary in its feel, it’s hard not to read the lyrics as a metaphor for their music career: “It was fun when we were young and now we’re older/Those days when we were broke in California/We were up and down and barely made it over/But I’d go back and ride that roller coaster.”
On the album cover, the three brothers are sprawled out, backs to the camera in front of pool as they stare out over the California desert: Happiness Begins. It is not just that the Jonas Brothers are back — they’re already looking forward to what comes next.