Nick Jonas: Nick Jonas

Nick Jonas Nick Jonas

3.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5

Having already locked down the female teen demo, Nick Jonas has taken a page out of the James Franco playbook, courting the LGBT community, aggressively working both the gay press and New York City’s club circuit, even playing a cheeky game of Guess the Bulge. His recent spread in Flaunt Magazine inspired a think piece in the Huffington Post in which my friend Noah Michelson called the unabashed display of hair on Jonas’s tan-lined lower back “radical”; it’s a refreshing shift in what’s presented as acceptable or sexy that dovetails with fellow boy-bander Harry Styles’s recent headline-grabbing statements hinting at his hetero-flexibility.

Less radical than Jonas’s happy trail, however, is the erstwhile JoBro’s current career trajectory. Milky dudes doing R&B is a fertile field, but that hasn’t stopped him from making a full-court press to fill the hole currently vacated by Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. Indeed, Jonas’s new self-titled album attempts to position the singer as JT to brother Joe’s JC Chasez. Forays into blue-eyed soul are inevitably subject to charges of cultural appropriation, and while “Wilderness” is a standout with its jaunty piano and humming background vocals, pairing lyrics about feeling “savage” and taking it “back to the wilderness” with what sounds like a foot-stomping African-American spiritual is bound to raise some eyebrows.

But there’s no doubting that Jonas has got the musical chops for his chosen genre: He flexes both his falsetto and songwriting skills throughout the album, most notably on “Push,” which boasts a surprisingly masochistic view of love (“Hold me down under the water/You know well that I can’t swim”) and the wistful bonus track “Santa Barbara.” With a mix of urban-leaning tracks and more radio-ready Top 40 fare, the album shrewdly distances Jonas from his former band’s straightforward pop-rock. The heavy, militaristic beat and pitched-down vocals, not to mention Jonas’s “Tryin’ to break the chains, but the chains only break me” refrain, lend lead single “Chains” a hard, Yeezus-lite quality. “Numb” follows the trap-pop template of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” almost to a fault, while “Teacher” is an infectious slice of bass-heavy funk that, though it doesn’t pop quite like Timberlake’s “Like I Love You,” employs a similarly catchy synth hook that plays like an homage to Gary Numan.

It’s this very formula, a balance between edgy and non-threatening accessibility, that shot the former ’NSync singer to superstardom; if there’s a hurdle here, it’s that Jonas seems too afraid to alienate his core audience. He may have ditched the purity ring, a development reflected in the suggestive themes explored on tracks like “I Want You,” which juxtaposes a subtle dancehall rhythm with a slightly less subtle threat (“If I can’t have you, then no one will”), but he keeps things relatively PG, leaving the album’s raciest lyric (“I look good, I smell good, I fuck good too”) to guest Mike Posner on “Closer.” If only Nick Jonas were as subversive as Jonas’s grooming habits—or lack thereof.

Release Date
November 10, 2014