Let me start by quashing any potential flamers ahead of time with a few sincere statements. These brothers’ obvious status as fodder for cynical hipsters removed, they please their key demographic. The band’s image as family friendly and the boys’ insistence on wearing abstinence rings have garnered them numerous jabs from media outlets decrying such cleanliness a gimmick. The brothers Jonas are philanthropic and not without a sense of humor (search “Jonas brother single ladies”), and so The Jonas Brothers as a purely successful pop act for a new generation should go down easier. After moving past their rare first album and signing with Hollywood Records, the Disney-backed performers are on to Lines, Vines & Trying Times and continuing to apply sticky sweetness to tunes for tweens.
Believe it or not, this album is mildly better than past releases, but while differences and slight improvements do exist, real progression in songwriting appears scarce. Lyrics ride the same tangent of good fun and donate occasional sparks of real world experience. The brothers do show off more experimentation with a variety of instruments, leaning more towards BBMak than ordinary “boy bands”, and in turn earning them some respect. That is to say, I always feel more inclined to appreciate pop groups who can actually play music.
Speaking to musical diversity, there are elements of bluegrass, swing, and big band here that really add a mature texture to an otherwise sappy record. Key examples here include the opener “World War III” as it describes a fight between two lovers. Considering recent news of Kevin Jonas’ engagement to Danielle Deleasa, it seems there has been a little growing up beyond the recording studio making this track feel sincere. While some critics have been displeased with the instruments present on Lines, Vines & Trying Times, claiming they bog things down, it actually brings better definition and enhances the albums dimensions.
Another positive element involves the presence of three notable guest appearances. Blues guitar star Jonny Lang adds a little adult swagger to “Hey Baby”; Common throws his two cents into “Don’t Charge Me For The Crime” (though this song feels a bit out of place among the rest); and predictable tag-along Miley Cyrus chimes in on “Before The Storm”. The real treasure in this trio resides in Lang, who blends well into this pop culture fold, contradictory to expectations. By record sales, one gets the feeling this more mature take on The Jonas Brothers sound has caused a mild rift in fandom. Is this unexpected? Not really. Sometimes pop music for acts like this can still be hit or miss regardless of fan base. Trends change constantly and between a new TV series and a dabble in charitable foundation politics, no one can really argue that the bubblegum charm is beginning to morph for this trio.
For those who would drive this review into the ground via remarks about mainstream radio and the irrelevance of covering a Christian-oriented pop band, nothing could be more juvenile: Jonas jokes and jabs are a dime a dozen. Love ’em or leave ’em, but there is no question these boys are serious about their music. Despite how much we all enjoy mucking about dispensing silly quips regarding cheesy songs, in the end, some trends still impact the industry and thus merit some observation. Lines, Vines & Trying Times is one of those albums that only the fans (and their parents perhaps) will truly appreciate for what it is; however, it could have been much much worse. I give The Jonas Brothers one star for each sibling and a “B” for sheer effort.
Pop music in all of its incarnations remains a blessing and a curse — remember this when you catch yourself accidentally dancing to “Burnin’ Up” or God forbid “Genie In A Bottle”.