With all of Nick Jonas’ unapologetic pandering to the gay community, sometimes it’s hard to remember that he actually makes music. No, really, all of his interviews these days seem to be more concerned with teasing and alluding to sexual encounters with men that may or may not have happened. Is he gay? I don’t think we’re any closer to finding out that answer. But hey! his third album Last Year Was Complicated is out.
In between sitting for gay-baiting interviews, Jonas has gone on the record to discuss just how personal of a record this is. From the title alone, one can infer that 2015 wasn’t so kind to the ex-Jonas Brother member. In an interview with Idolator, he dropped some details that it’s a breakup record. “Shit is too real sometimes… Reliving some of these real life experiences through this music is hard,” he said.
Except there’s not a whole lot here that really amounts to emotional depth. The title of the album was originally slated to be Unhinged, which is the name of the 11th track, which is also one of the only songs that lives up to the hype perpetuated by Jonas. It’s both a conversation with an unnamed lover (though one could deduce it’s his ex-girlfriend Olivia Culpo) and with himself; Jonas is retracing the failure of the relationship while reassuring himself that it’s for the best that he walk away. Vocally, he takes a more restrained route than others might have taken (though it works) and the faint piano accompaniment is perfectly matched.
Lead single “Close” also takes the restrained route, both in the subdued eroticism of its lyrics and the vocal execution of Jonas and featured artist Tove Lo, though its the latter who is the one you walk away remembering the most. “Chainsaw,” another confessional ballad sees the singer shining for the fences with grandiose statements about love, although his vocals never reach the level of the lyrics. “Baby I’ll just take a chainsaw to the sofa, Where I held your body close for so long,” he sings, before promising ” I’m gonna break out all the china, Cause it’s just one more reminder you’re gone.”
Jonas didn’t sound nearly so restrained on his last album, which featured hits like “Jealous” and “Chains” and other great cuts like “Teacher” and “Numb.” And while that subdued approach does sometimes work out in his favor, more often than not it makes him, and the songs, come off as hollow. “Bacon,” featuring a take it or leave it verse from Ty Dolla $ign and “Good Girls,” with a forgettable Big Sean feature, do little to paint Jonas as the Justin Timberlake-esque breakout he clearly wants to be. “Champagne Problems” is a zippy dance track, though it’s outdone by “Touch,” the most carefree moment on the record, which is also where Jonas sounds the most free since “Jealous” was released.
Jonas has spent the last several months hyping this as a confessional manifesto, but ultimately it feels more forgettable than something we’ll still be listening to down the road. The songs aren’t bad per say, they just don’t do much to warrant revisiting. The power of “Unhinged,” placed as the penultimate song, is nearly undone by the clumsy and forgettable closer “Comfortable.”
This was clearly Jonas’ attempt at reaching a new stage of his career. At 23, he still has time to grow into whatever it is he’s aiming for as an artist. He has the commercial appeal, clearly he’s got a voice, and so long as he keeps the gays interested he’ll have some sort of a fanbase. Last Year Was Complicated, however, does little to stand out among Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book or even Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman (all albums featuring the blood, sweat and tears from the artists behind them) as the year’s best or even just to live up to its own expectations.
***Essential Tracks: “Voodoo,” “Close,” “Touch,” “Unhinged”