CD review: Nick Jonas’ ‘Last Year Was Complicated’

Posted on 09 Jun 2016 at 9:04am

NickJonas20164Nick Jonas has never felt as processed, mixed, packaged and AutoTuned as many of his pop-music contemporaries. One reason for that is probably that he didn’t need to resort to those tricks. Early on, his fanbase of shrill teen girls didn’t require singing chops so much as pretty-boy sincerity. Growing out of heartthrob status — or rather, into adult-throb status, where more mature women and gay men are as sighingly captivated by his hunkiness as their pre-pubescent counterparts — is a skill not everyone can accomplish… although when they do, it’s usually by discarding the baggage of virginal imaging and adopting an edgier persona. (For many, it’s really about revealing their real personas; the music industry and superstardom are seductively corrupting.)

Jonas has aged well into his prime with brooding good looks that he capitalizes on with sexually charged performances (playing gay in the TV shows Scream Queens and Kingdom, which returns this month), and even saying just last week that “it would be lying” to say he has not slept with another man following his Method-y performance. Publicity tease to sell album and TV audiences… or an outright confession? Who cares — it’s what helps set Jonas apart from his douchier chart-mates. He’s a flirt with attitude, … and the pipes to keep the payoff coming once the headlines die down.

As far as corporapop music goes, Last Year Was Complicated, Jonas’ new LP (it drops tomorrow), capitalized on the Dallas native’s maturation away from girl-crush to reckoned-with solo artist. It’s a promising foray.

For me, the best track is “Unhinged,” ripe with Sam Smith-esque plaintiveness. It’s Jonas’ most impressive handling of the vocals, though “Close” — the disc’s first single, a duet with Tove Lo — is in the running as well. It’s Jonas at his purist without to much clutter and over-production.

“Champagne Problems” is a fairly familiar-sounding variation of the hip-hop trope of having too much of a good thing, but while the riffs and production aren’t exactly groundbreaking, the attitude is lightly ironic. “Touch” conveys an old-school R&B vibe, and he continues the urbane feel with rap solos from Ty Dolla Sign (on “Bacon”) and Big Sean (on “Good Girls”). The 12-track album has enough gems that, while it never takes off — like Sam Smith or Adele seem to do so easily — it definitely establishes Jonas as a solo artist of some skill.

Read our interview with Nick Jonas tomorrow in Dallas Voice online and in print.

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