Happiness Begins
Just when we thought we had seen the last of the Jonas Brothers, they're back again. But, when the hype dies down, what's left? (Illustration by Natashna Anderson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)
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Happiness Begins
Just when we thought we had seen the last of the Jonas Brothers, they're back again. But, when the hype dies down, what's left? (Illustration by Natashna Anderson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

‘Happiness Begins’ suffers from high expectations and an apathetic output.

Ten years have passed since the Jonas Brothers’ “Lines, Vines, and Trying Times.” Ten years since their last studio album, nine since their TV show ended, eight since their hiatus and six since their breakup.

Then, suddenly, in 2019 the drought ended. Leading with the comeback single “Sucker,” the Jonas Brothers released “Happiness Begins” to the public. Though massively popular, does the album follow through on the hopes and dreams of all the Jonas Brothers’ old fans?

Alongside Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers led the Disney Channel’s late 2000s musical branch. “Burnin’ Up” reached Billboard’s top five songs, their Disney-era albums sold over 5 million copies and they starred in Disney Channel content like “Camp Rock” and their self-titled TV show.

The Jonas Brothers had less success in the 2010s: a hiatus, some side projects, one live album and an official split in late 2013. Since then, Kevin Jonas settled into married life and some business ventures, while Nick continued to make regular pop music and Joe formed the group DNCE, famously known for “Cake by the Ocean.” The world seemed to no longer need the trio; Nick and Joe in small doses sufficed.

For a more in-depth career perspective, check out Veronica Kuffle’s article, “The Jonas Brother’s Triumphant Return, ‘Happiness Begins,’ Is Where Summer Starts.”

In a surprise twist of events, on February 28, the fraternal trio announced a return with the new single “Sucker,” a No. 1 debut and the opener for “Happiness Begins.” A nostalgic wave flooded the world, and the song proved a great choice for the lead single. “Sucker” created a taut pop-rock dance jam perfect for summer.

Its tight groove and pleasant catchiness made the song an instant smash; the precision invested in those restrained melodies and tense drums keep “Sucker” fresh for the Jonas Brothers’ falsetto crooning, especially the muffled electric guitar and minimalist whistling. No other song in 2019 has been as fun as “Sucker,” and the Jonas Brothers seemed poised for a great album.

Unfortunately, the second single from “Happiness Begins” did not reach the bar set by “Sucker.” “Cool” was a slow ballad about how cool the Jonas Brothers are. Several shout-outs to their respective wives were sweet, but the self-referential lyrics would only be interesting if the bandmates had more notable careers. The song was self-absorbed and idiotic.

A funky groove can right many wrongs, but the group instead chose a strumming acoustic guitar. The sound was simply too serious for the silly song, especially as the beat builds with church organs, trap drums and a guitar solo. Their high-pitched voices needed more muscle and bass in the beat, but this kind of beat required more muscle and bass in the singer. “Cool” was the pride to “The Lazy Song”’s sloth.

The public responded in kind. “Cool” debuted in Billboard’s Top 40 and quickly dropped out, while “Sucker” stayed in the top ten for months. But in addition to being bad, “Cool” is just poorly placed. “Happiness Begins” disrupts its own rhythm by following the upbeat dance number with a slow song. The Jonas Brothers throw away their momentum and have not yet recovered.

After these songs, “Happiness Begins” slowly loses anything of note. As the Jonas Brothers’ solo careers indicate, the trio is still primarily a singles-oriented pop band. They just need to clear the bar of “average” to succeed.

Unlike Miley Cyrus’ controversy and genre exploration/exploitation and the confident edge of Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers have not fundamentally changed. Their writing grew beyond adolescence, and their musical palette broadened a little, but the album is still boilerplate mainstream pop. “Happiness Begins” lacks even the teenage amateurism and Disney cheesiness of earlier releases; the LP is not remarkable.

The individual Jonas Brothers vocalists aren’t superb either. Joe’s falsetto isn’t as whiny as Adam Levine of Maroon 5, but he strains his upper register every time he sings well. Nick’s vocals leave no impression. His tenor counters the higher range of Joe, but he goes nowhere. Kevin doesn’t sing. Their overall harmony is, as a result, barely adequate.

Silly love songs of passion and desperation abound with minimal effort. Nothing goes wrong like “Cool,” but nothing merits much special attention. The chorus of “Happy When I’m Sad” is the most unimaginative description of faking a good mood during depression in recent memory.

“Rollercoaster” and some scattered lyrics describe the Jonas Brothers’ travels together, but they only succeed to a small extent. “Sucker” and “Only Human” describe well some scenes of exuberance, but “Happiness Begins,” as a whole, is lyrically an impersonal, unimaginative set of standard pop songs.

A few songs showed potential. The glossy reggae beat and sleazier lyrics of “Only Human” raise the song above average, the dreamy ‘80s keyboards and disco elements on “I Believe” cool the atmosphere for some love and “Don’t Throw It Away” is a tight banger. Generally, the Jonas Brothers perform well with dance-influenced genre switches. If they had a few more like these songs, “Happiness Begins” could be a good album.

The other beats disappoint. The dance-leaning songs not listed don’t maintain that well-crafted energy like the better songs, and much of the album is sparse, echoing, slow pop. The album was decent in the first half, but the second half drones interminably.

An abundance of ambient-influenced tracks is not necessarily bad or even unusual, but the songs here are both bland and betrayals of “Sucker”’s promise. The Jonas Brothers set an expectation with their lead single, and they neither completed the expectation nor gave anything better.

“Happiness Begins” is not a bad album; some individual tracks were good, and only one song was anything less than mediocre. The LP fulfills what should be expected of a band that works better with single songs than full albums. However, “Sucker” is the only good song here.

The full album experience lacks distinguishing features beyond the Jonas Brothers name. If you listen to “Happiness Begins” only to recall the band’s heyday, their old material is available on Spotify and ready. Even if the Jonas Brothers become superstars once more, not “Happiness Begins,” but “Sucker,” will be remembered.

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