Music Reviews
Lines, Vines and Trying Times

Jonas Brothers Lines, Vines and Trying Times

(Hollywood) Buy it from Insound Rating - 4/10

In November 1983, Duran Duran released their third album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger. In an interview not long after, Simon Le Bon told Rolling Stone that the album “is an adventure story about a little commando team. 'The Seven' is for us — the five band members and the two managers — and 'the Ragged Tiger' is success. Seven people running after success. It's ambition. That's what it's about.” This proves two things: firstly, Simon Le Bon is an utter tool (not that their was much doubt surrounding that one) and secondly, simple bands shouldn’t make themselves appear impressive by having “clever” album titles. It didn’t make Duran Duran look deep and philosophical; instead it was a prime example of trying too hard.

Perhaps Kevin, Nick and Joe Jonas (seriously, who calls their kid Joe Jonas?) were big fans of lightweight 80s pop, because that’s the only possible explanation behind this baffling title: Lines, Vines and Trying Times. What with the brothers Jonas being signed to Hollywood Records, a subsidiary of Disney, you would think they’d have had to battle hard to keep that title. You can imagine a meeting between the Jo Bros and some head honcho at the record label (you may wish to imagine said honcho smoking a huge Cuban cigar that he lit using a $100 bill):

Head Honcho: “Nick, Curly, Spud, come in, sit down. Now what are we going to call the album?”
Jonas Brothers: “Lines, Vines and Trying Times
HH: “That’s a terrible title. We were thinking maybe In Your Face or Rock Da House. Calling it Lines, Vines and Nursery Rhymes…
JB: “…Trying Times.”
HH: “Whatever. It won’t sell”
JB: “But we feel it reflects our new found maturity or some other similarly empty gesture”
HH: “Well, Joe Rivers might do some unfunny, self-referential skit on the title if he reviews it”
JB (in unison): “Who?”
HH: “Good point.”

Yeah, it probably went something like that.

Anyway, despite the eldest brother (Kevin) only being born in 1987, the most striking thing about Lines, Vines and Trying Times is the proliferation of 80s influences. Not 80s in a cool, La Roux, sleek electro revival kind of way, but 80s in a synthetic, cheap, well… Duran Duran kind of way, come to think of it. There are horn stabs at every turn, meaningless phrases, “triumphs” of style over substance and power ballads. The production (and title) of Poison Ivy take it laughably close to hair metal while Hey Baby bounces along on a slap bass figure which reeks so strongly of fromage that even Flea would think twice before donning the Fender and banging his head around in a mindless fashion.

As you’d expect, there’s nothing to change the world of popular music in Lines, Vines and Trying Times. There’s the obligatory syrupy ballad or three (one featuring the irritatingly ubiquitous Miley Cyrus) which prove to be the vomit-inducing lightweight pap that the pre-teens seem to lap up, and a couple of songs that seem to have crafted solely with the intention of soundtracking the season finalé of some post-Dawson’s Creek solipsism-fest where Johnny’s upset with Janey and Danny’s angry at Jay but Jay’s in love with Janey and is going through a really, really hard time.

So, quelle surprise, Lines, Vines and Trying Times is primarily a box-ticking exercise. The songs are exclusively about relationships but what with them coming from America’s most famous wearers of purity rings, everything’s blandly sexless and free of controversy. Even the tracks about longing and wanting don’t contain a hint of lust and the closest the brothers come to breaking their family-friendly image is the implied rhyme within Poison Ivy (“everybody gets the itch/Everybody hates that…”) which has a squall of guitar instead of completing what would be the least threatening lyric used in song since “Stop - Hammertime.”

Then there’s the singing. Whoever started this style of singing - possibly Mariah Carey - should be made accountable for their crimes as the brothers sing as if (and sorry for descending to this level) they’re attempting to evacuate something particularly obstructive from their bowels. Miley Cyrus is just as bad so the only voice of reason on this album comes from Common. Yep, that Common. Mr Lynn lends his flow to Don’t Charge Me for the Crime; a pitiful attempt at sounding street - careful, they mention the police and pistols - that only succeeds in making the Jonas Brothers seem the kind of people who could have their ice creams stolen by a five-year-old.

Now, it’s time for a small confession and one that may be a sackable offence on the good ship No Ripcord (and if that’s the case, thanks for the memories, it’s been a blast, best of luck for the future and all that). In parts, Lines, Vines and Trying Times can be quite listenable. If you manage to ignore the fact that half the tracks make Starship and Heart sound like the Aphex Twin, those Jo Bros sure know how to write a tune. For all the overblown, bombastic production, when they’ve a spring in their step, the melodies are strong and the songs can be fun. World War Three, Much Better and the aforementioned Poison Ivy are catchy enough that if you happen to hear them, you may find yourself inadvertently humming them to yourself hours later.

Lines, Vines and Trying Times isn’t a good record and definitely isn’t the kind of thing you should be looking to investigate further. But if you’re reading this review, the chances are it’s not meant for you, so giving it a thumbs-down is hardly earth-shattering news. Like it or not, Jonas Brothers and the people behind them know their target market and do what they do pretty well. The abundance of such dated sounds is baffling but consider this: if you had a 10-year-old child who was starting to take an interest in music, would you rather they were into the misogynistic, materialistic world of commercial 21st Century R n’ B or the wholesome, clean-cut image of the Jonas Brothers? While comedian Bill Bailey may have had it right when he claimed there was “more evil in the charts than in an Al-Qaeda suggestion box,” Lines, Vines and Trying Times hardly constitutes the war crime your prejudices may have led you to believe.

Comments for Lines, Vines and Trying Times review

In Defense of JoBros...

No one in their right mind would recommend the Jonas Brothers to anyone over the age of 10, but they should be commended for actually writing and performing their own songs.

Sure, it's still kiddy-pop that goes down sweet and smooth and almost completely absent of substance, but its well made, inoffensive kiddy-pop that won't cause a more discriminating listener to pull their hair out (as this review pointed out). It's not good, but any step forward in the field of forgettable top-40 pop music should be recognized and appreciated.

These are dudes who not only write their own songs, but preform them! With instruments and shit! If there is any justice in the world, The JoBros will inspire kids to pick up an instrument, write a song even. And that's something.

The pre-teens of today could do a hell of a lot worse than The Jonas Brothers. As for my (fictional) kids, I wouldn't chastise them for listening to this new record, but I'd hope they grow out of it. And I'd make sure they get their weekly dose of The Blue Album.

I like that idea

A weekly dose of the Blue Album is essential for good parenting.

"Daddy, is his name really Jonas?"
"No, it's just he's..."
"...and who's Buddy Holly?"
"He was a..."
"...and why do people want to destroy his sweater? Is it not a nice sweater?"
"GAH!" *pulls hair out* "Here, listen to the Jonas Brothers."

I disagree on not

I disagree on not recommending this band to anyone of any age. Pardon this overwritten rant:

I bought their earliest album for my very small daughter, a few years ago, on a whim...she loved it, and I was surprised when I got hooked too. Like any other good band - they have a POV which is genuine and honest, even if it is naive and sometimes cloying, it is always very much representative of THEM. This is true of so many artists we value over the years as we go back and look at their early catalogues.

They are a real band, and for me what I enjoy most is watching a career evolve and artists change, in an organic way. Despite their misguided reputation as some kind of prefab group, I can't say I've felt this way about any other non-veteran band in many years (since the Britney Spearsification of music killed it and drove me indie, away from mainstream pop - which was truly great in the 80s, no matter what you say about its lightweightness), and they are one of the only currently productive bands I enjoy playing in the house alongside all the older artists we listen to as a family, whose story arcs are already pretty obvious or have come to a close.

In addition...the Jonases are really a better live band than an album band. Their songs really come alive, as do their vocals, when the producer's hand is stripped out and you can get a better sense of the energy that has captured their fanbase. Over the years, we've seen them do great acoustic in a mall atrium, and a 50,000 seat arena (the only place they are honestly questionable is in TV studio appearances, unfortunately, but that's a story for another day.)

The Jonas Brothers have been great for my kid....she's now interested in instruments, in singing, in the artists that the Jonas boys pay ample lip service to as admirers, in discussing the ugly aspects of fame we've watched them endure since we started listening to them just before they attained commercial success...

And my daughter is UNDER ten, and pretty discerning. She started with the Wiggles, but since she has seen Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan in concert, been to a show at Levon Helm's home studio. She loves Michael Jackson, John Fogarty, the Beatles. She'll tolerate some of the indie of my misspent youth, the roots and folk we can all agree on. And she still thinks the Jonas Brothers are great, and she's still interested in watching them perform summer after summer, as they get better and better. ME TOO.

So I just had to defend them from this 4/'s a 6/7 at LEAST for a non-fan. Maybe it takes 3 or 4 listens to get there but it really is.

They have a ways to go before they could be considered innovators leaving any mark on music, but for now - the fact that they play good pop music in a very barren field, playing along with the huge conglomerate that promotes them, is a significant accomplishment. They hold up fine to my ears, and I think there's a good chance they'll stick it out with their career. That alone makes their first 4 albums especially worth investigating - besides that they are well done and fun, if simply might regret you didn't, later, when they've fully realized their potential.

Don't we always want to say we saw the signs first?

It's strange

I assumed when I wrote this review that any criticism I got would be from outraged hipsters threatening me because I had the audacity to give the album more than 1/10.

I can see where you're coming from in a lot of what you're saying. Hold the Jonas Brothers up to their contemporaries and they come off pretty well. However, I'm sticking to my guns and I think a score of 4 is more than fair. OK, I went off on one and tried (a bit too hard if we're honest) to be amusing, but I still gave them their dues and, for my money, gave a balanced assessment of the album. I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself enjoying aspects of the music!

However, I'm not just judging this effort against others in its field, it's competing against all pop music that you find reviewed on this site and other publications. Giving this album a 6 or a 7 would devalue the rating system altogether. Impressive and surprising as it is, can you honestly say you'd rather listen to this than anything by Iggy or Dylan? Fair play if you say yes, but I certainly wouldn't. Kudos to the Jonas Brothers for writing their own (catchy) songs and playing their own instruments, but I won't be listening to this album again.

Also, I think it's a bit early to start calling them "true artists." Yes, more talented than a million identikit pop teens but they're a marketing man's dream. Three good-looking guys who are loved by kids and parents alike? Disney must have thought they were dreaming. This may be me being cynical but despite them having more creative input than you might expect at first glance, they're really just a cog in the machine.

But hey, in ten years time they've removed their shackles of teen-pop oppression and made it as credible "artists" then I'm prepared to eat my words. It very rarely happens though and I'd argue that it hasn't really happened since Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and I can't see the Jo Bros having the star quality of those two.

Finally, not my place to judge, but is an Iggy Pop concert the most appropriate place for a child in single figures?!

All the best,

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