The Lowdown: “Please hold while we get our shit together,” Joe Jonas tweeted nearly six years ago after he, Nick, and Kevin canceled their 2013 tour dates and put the Jonas Brothers’ music on the shelf. The hiatus was understandable considering the brothers were now twentysomethings seeking new artistic direction and all, perhaps, coming to different conclusions. Perhaps it was necessary for the brothers to tackle the transition out of teen pop stardom separately — a transition that also proved difficult and frustrating for contemporaries Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato in the 2010s.
After the split, the Jonas Brothers kept a lower profile than their fellow Disney stars, though they certainly found success on their own. Nick reached the top 20 three times with his sensual R&B-tinged hits “Chains”, “Jealous”, and “Close”. In 2015, Joe formed dance-rock group DNCE whose summer smash “Cake by the Ocean” was certified 4x platinum. Meanwhile, Kevin remained the quiet Jonas, finding success in real estate and app development outside the spotlight.
While the three brothers grew, married, and further developed their individual identities during their hiatus, their new album title suggests that Happiness Begins with celebrating life together as a family. On their first studio album back together, the JoBros have recaptured the charm they oozed a decade ago and make it feel more natural than they ever did as Disney stars.
The Good: Happiness Begins is an apt title for the summer-ready album’s tone. While early upbeat singles “Sucker” and “Cool” have already made respectable cases for beach-party jams, the tropical grooves on “Only Human” and “Every Single Time” are infectious. The lyrical content of love, desire, and plenty of dancing on these reggae-inspired tracks may not be anything original, but the sincerity in performance and deep devotion to melody-crafting ensure they’ll make perfect companions with a frozen margarita and a game of beach volleyball.
Though the brothers try on different pop stylings across the album’s tracklist, Nick and Joe’s melodic vocal performances are in peak form when backed by lush, ‘80s-inspired synthpop. Early ballad “I Believe” delivers the sweetness of Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion as Nick tenderly sings to his wife, “You show me something I can’t live without.” The arena-ready “Don’t Throw It Away” is the kind of heartfelt, bittersweet anthem that will have you crying and dancing at the same time as the brothers fight to save a hurting relationship, perhaps inspired by their long hiatus.
Heartfelt lyrics concerning restoration and loving relationships continue to be one of the album’s strongest virtues. On late-album ballad “Hesitate”, Joe channels the whispered intimacy of The xx as he sings a love letter to his newlywed. Whereas the relationship-centered songs of Jonas Brothers’ past lacked personal emotion, here they channel honest life experience into their performances, making Happiness Begins a refreshingly intimate pop record.
The Bad: For all the album’s catchiness and charm, many of the sounds and styles are borrowed from recent pop trends and even specific hits. Nick’s falsettoed performance on the groove-driven “Sucker” owes a lot to the recent success of Portugal. The Man’s 2017 smash “Feel It Still”. Similarly, the trap beats and R&B melodies on ballad “Used to Be” easily bring to mind Post Malone ballads like “Psycho”. Again, the minimalist approach on the percussion-less ballad “Love Her” lands too closely to Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”. None of this is surprising, considering the team of songwriters and producers credited on the album include industry heavyweights Ryan Tedder, Shellback, and Greg Kurstin.
Besides the fact that these songs aren’t going to innovate the pop landscape, the grab-bag approach employed here makes Happiness Begins an inconsistent record sonically. To be fair, the album is not nearly as jolting as their previous record, Lines, Vines, and Trying Times, which mixed pop punk, country pop, and Maroon 5-esque funk pop across its tracklist. However, it does still fall prey to the pop album curse of the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts.
The Verdict: Despite not being the most innovative pop record in 2019, the Jonas Brothers’ return is welcome. It still may not be “Cool” to be a JoBros fan. But if you’re a “Sucker” for marshmallow melodies and summer jams, you won’t be disappointed. Happiness Begins is the best effort the brothers have put forth in their career together or separately. That alone is enough to prove that, for them, healthy camaraderie is an important ingredient to joyful music-making.
Essential Tracks: “Only Human”, “I Believe”, and “Don’t Throw It Away”