Can Jonas recreate the unexpected delight of his last album?
Musically, he takes few risks, only going off course with the tropical house elements on “Close” and the 90s dance beats on “Comfortable”. While his contemporaries like Zayn and Ariana Grande have spent 2016 straying off trendy paths in favor of more artistic pastures, Jonas chases hits. The problem is there really aren’t any.
Every track feels like an angled attempt to recreate his breakout singles “Chains” and “Jealous”. In fact, the men responsible for those songs, Jason Evigan and Sir Nolan, respectively, are behind the majority of the songs here. Together, they craft songs that could have easily been handled by the Justins of pop music. “Voodoo” captures the second-hand magic of a Timberlake-Timbaland collaboration while “Touch”, with its catchy guitar-driven melody, has Bieber written all over it.
Unfortunately, none of these songs truly duplicate the bangers they’re emulating. In fact, Last Year doesn’t have any sort of bona fide hit to anchor it. The aforementioned lead single “Close”, which features Tove Lo, is about as lukewarm as the intimacy problems discussed in its lyrics and the Big Sean-assisted “Good Girls” feels as dated as its slut-shaming message (“When did all these good girls decide to be bad? / Dancing up on the table, getting back at your dad”). Even still, the album doesn’t need an obvious radio smasher to be enjoyable when it has a steady stream of gratifying tracks.
Last Year is made even more intriguing by the fact that nobody seemed particularly invested in Jonas’ relationship with Culpo when it happened, and certainly nobody cares now. Jonas can be as vague or specific, as mournful or bitter as he wants, a luxury he would not have had on a record about his split from an ex like Miley Cyrus. “I never met a beauty queen I didn’t like,” he croons on “Comfortable”. Aside from that direct reference to Culpo and her crown, the album revels in anonymity as Jonas zips through the stages of a breakup. He celebrates the single life and his newfound personal freedom on “Bacon”, but on “Unhinged”, a ballad with shades of John Mayer, he takes responsibility for letting their relationship sink: “You’re not the first to try and diagnose what’s wrong with me / I’ll be the first to admit that I’m hard to please.”
Jonas didn’t make any grand promises with Last Year Was Complicated, and so his latest release doesn’t disappoint. Even without any standout tracks that seem destined for radio overplay, the plush album offers a consistently enjoyable listening experience. Jonas may not yet have what it takes to be a pop king, but he has just enough to hang in there.