Maybe my tolerance for teen pop, both the legitimately well-crafted and camp varieties, has finally hit a peak, but I just don’t have much use for the current cycle of youth-oriented, mostly Disney-spawned acts like Miley Cyrus, Aly & AJ or the Jonas Brothers. For their first “serious” album, A Little Bit Longer, the trio of Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas have at least stopped writing songs about taking rockets to the year 3000 and co-opting the premises of second-tier ABBA cuts, but supposed maturity doesn’t necessarily suit them all that well either. Say what you want about “MMMBop,” but Hanson’s second and third albums demonstrated a real facility with classic pop conventions and the ability to write massive and memorable hooks. The Jonas Brothers, ostensibly the Hanson to Miley Cyrus’s Britney Spears in this pop cycle, show no such skill on Longer.
That the best thing that can be said about any of their songs is that they’re all short enough not to overstay their welcome puts them ahead of whoever it was that writes Hilary Duff’s material, but it doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence about the brothers’ long-term prospects once the pop bubble inevitably bursts. Songs like opener “BB Good” (which stands out only for a couple of unintentionally hilarious spoken-word asides) and “Shelf” are emo-lite pop-rock numbers for kids not quite ready for the heady complexity of Jimmy Eat World or without the grasp of irony necessary to appreciate Fountains of Wayne. If vapid and lacking strong hooks, that style of song, which comprises the bulk of the album, is at least functional within the context of the band’s wholesome persona. On the other hand, something like lead single “Burning Up” makes literally no sense as all, attempting to position the Jonas Brothers as Maroon 5 for the “True Love Waits” set.
Given that profound lack of self-awareness, it’s tempting to make more lurid readings into some of the other cuts (i.e., “Lovebug” is obviously about VD, while “One Man Show” answers the threat of Pink’s “U & Ur Hand” with a “That’ll be fine” shrug), but there’s barely enough content to the songs to justify them as disposable Top 40 fodder let alone to justify any potential snark. More than anything else, Longer is inert. The music itself shows neither outstanding songcraft nor such a disregard for said songcraft that it works as camp, and there’s nothing about the Jonas Brothers’s identity as recording artists or public figures that’s at all interesting in the way that the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana dissociative split fits into the current tween generation’s constructs of celebrity. Even if it stands to be one of the year’s biggest sellers (which it most assuredly will be), Longer is hard to envision as an album that will allow the Jonas Brothers to transcend their place in this teen-pop cycle.