Nick Jonas’ sophomore solo effort takes a slight step towards abandoning the R&B angle he surged back onto the music scene with in single “Jealous”, and while the album lies cluttered with filler at times, the highs are quite high indeed. Since “Jealous” was such a quality song mainly due to the instrumentation, distancing himself from full-on R&B numbers might be a smart decision for Jonas. His lilting falsetto is a little weak to be a force in the genre. Lead single “Close” – a slow burning duet with up and coming singer Tove Lo – may be the closest thing to his previous work, and it is one of the weaker tracks here because his voice does not carry the notes as well as an established R&B singer could. On Last Year Was Complicated, he uses his voice to his advantage, creating a body of work which is nothing like his breakout hit, but quite good for a different reason. Except, of course, for anomaly “Chainsaw”, which is the exact same song to a ridiculous degree. It certainly isn’t a bad song, but the similarity is impossible to overlook.
While the album does lean ever so slightly closer towards pop territory, it rarely threatens to be generic. The music is complemented by a trifecta of rising pop producers who each handle about a third of the work – duo Mattman & Robin, Sir Nolan and most notably Jason Evigan, who contributes what are easily the best songs to the project, including “The Difference”, “Voodoo” and “Champagne Problems”. The instrumental work on the latter two borders almost on EDM, and it draws my attention more to the background than Jonas’ vocals. This is very energetic music, and I can see why it was targeted for a summer release. The funky, punchy staccato rhythms which populate the majority of the tracks, peaking on a song like “Touch”, will likely be prevalent on dance floors throughout the coming months. “The Difference”, however, is the true standout track, and reminds me of Evigan’s work on Fifth Harmony’s Better Together EP, a small project which was released prior to their major label debut album.
Producer Jason Evigan
Going full pop isn’t the answer either though, as a song like “Bacon”, serviced to pop radio and sure to make an impact soon, is very lacklustre. The token rap features on both “Bacon” and “Good Girls” almost detract from the enjoyment of the songs, as they feel too brief and out of place. Ty Dolla $ign and Big Sean can usually inject an additional shot of energy into a song with ease but they are wasted here. Jonas needs a bit more maturing in his career and progress towards establishing his sound. A direct comparison could be drawn to the time period when Justin Bieber had come out of his teen pop phase – which of course Jonas had his fair share of – and was experimenting with an R&B tinged sound on mediocre albums Believe and Journals, before transitioning to the fully realized musician he is today. Interestingly enough, some of these producers worked on those aforementioned Bieber albums.
As it stands, a number of these tracks lack personality. An emotional ballad like “Unhinged” could have used some, as it doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it could. As the album closes on “Comfortable”, one of the album’s weakest and also the only one with a Jonas production credit, saved from inclusion in the annals of my Least Favorite Track by the presence of an interesting interview with basketball star Allen Iverson, I look forward to a potential Bieberesque renaissance in the future when Jonas discovers exactly the type of music he wants to make. Riding the line can only take one so far.
Favorite Tracks: The Difference, Touch, Champagne Problems, Voodoo
Least Favorite Track: Bacon