Lines, Vines and Trying Times
Subscribing to the time-honored practice of striking when the iron is hot, the Jonas Brothers put out Lines, Vines and Trying Times in June of 2009, making it their third album in one year. True, Lines and A Little Bit Longer were separated by a soundtrack to a concert film, but the flood of product is a true reflection of the peak of the group's popularity, just as how the over-produced, stretched-thin Lines is a reflection of their hectic schedule. Where A Little Bit Longer was built on a strong song foundation, Lines, Vines and Trying Times feels constructed from the outside in, with the concepts coming before the tunes, concepts that all take the Brothers Jonas further away from the fizzy, power pop fun. Lines is designed to showcase a mature Jonas Brothers, who wear their maturation in an increased stylistic range, and fussed-over arrangements that lend this a stiffness of a band well beyond their years. Pop classicists that they are, the Jonases are a bit more comfortable with immaculate arrangements than they are with the expansion, as they fumble through a couple of country songs and "Don't Charge Me for the Crime," a truly bizarre duet with Common where they gamely, lamely affect a hard-boiled pose. Tellingly, most of the forced moments were written in collaboration with outsiders such as Cathy Dennis and Greg Garbowsky, the latter being responsible for co-writing "Poison Ivy," a power pop tune so labored it reveals just how good A Little Bit Longer was. Overthinking and over-production are the primary flaws on Lines, where every point is hammered home by horns transported from the waning days of the Reagan administration. This oddly yuppified production is more Taylor Hicks than Taylor Swift, but the presence of Joe's former girlfriend is felt elsewhere, whether it's in the lyric's heartbroken love songs (as well as a couple of rocking accusations), or how Miley Cyrus stands in for Taylor on one of those country songs. But Swift also comes to mind because she and the Jonas Brothers are trying to do a similar thing: make teen pop that skews adult in its sound and form. The JoBros did it effortlessly on A Little Bit Longer but on Lines, Vines and Trying Times the seams are showing, which makes it a little bit harder to enjoy, even if there are certainly moments where all their craft and charm click, resulting in some fine pop that points out what's missing from the rest of the record.