It was around this time last year that the Jonas Brothers confirmed their breakup. It wasn’t a shock: The boy band once beloved by the Disney Channel’s tween audience hadn’t released an album since 2009’s Lines, Vines and Trying Times. And despite some success with their 2008 Disney Channel Original Movie co-starring Demi Lovato, Camp Rock, the band never really lived up to all the hype about their popularity: None of their songs ever reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts and only one album, 2008’s A Little Bit Longer, debuted on top. (By comparison, their boy band successors, One Direction, have debuted at No. 1 with all three of their albums and will likely do the same with their fourth.) And their music, to put it plainly, was not good.
But with that chapter in his career now behind him, Nick Jonas, the youngest of the three, is attempting a full-on reinvention. This week, he’ll release his second self-titled solo album (his first, which used his full name Nicholas Jonas, came out in 2005). He’s 22 years old, no longer hiding his sexuality beneath a “purity ring,” and, rather unexpectedly, he appears entirely ready for his FutureSex/LoveSounds moment.
Sex is front and center in Jonas’ new music and persona. Look no further than the photo spread in which Jonas recreates Mark Wahlberg’s classic Calvin Klein crotch-grab. In the shoot’s corresponding interview, Jonas explained his vision for the new album: “There are songs on my record that I want people to have sex to.” The first single, “Chains,” doesn’t seem to fit that description; it’s a dark and moody track about a devil in a red dress. But the song does show the influence of the pop-tilted R&B he’s drawing from. On Nick Jonas, he isn’t trying his hand at your mother’s R&B—sorry, no R. Kelly comparisons here—but a more polished, slowed-down, and sensual version of the pop he’s used to making. “Chains” is a slow song that still has an infectious hook as its centerpiece.
And then there’s the album’s second single, “Jealous,” one of the more mature-sounding songs on the album. Last week it received a remix from R&B star-in-the-making Tinashe. (Note his added F-bomb on the previously censored chorus.) It’s one of a spate of recent pop songs about envy—including One Direction’s “Steal My Girl,” Chromeo’s “Jealous (I Ain’t With It),” and Beyoncé’s “Jealous,” among others. But this is the sexiest of the bunch. With hints of Miguel’s sizzle—particularly in Jonas’ impressive falsetto—and the danceability of Lionel Richie, this sounds like the bedroom music Jonas apparently has in mind, aimed at the grown ‘n’ sexy crowd without the overt bump ‘n’ grind.
To be clear, Nick Jonas isn’t a complete departure from his Jonas Brothers days. Songs like “Avalanche,” his duet with Demi Lovato, and, especially, the radio-primed “Numb,” which features a verse from Angel Haze, are just formulaic enough to appeal to his younger fans, who might not be ready for the “dirty thoughts” of songs like “Take Over” or the emotional weight of “Push” (even if they are two of the better songs on the album).
Nick Jonas’ last attempt at redefining himself was Who I Am, a John Mayer-esque project with his band the Administration. While that was leaps and bounds from the manufactured drab he released with his brothers, it didn’t feel authentic. Nick Jonas, on the other hand, is a surprisingly convincing performance—for the first time ever, I believe the music he’s making. Like Ariana Grande’s My Everything—another of the year’s best pop albums—it reflects the soulfulness that seemed hidden in some of his Jonas Brothers efforts (see, e.g., “Lovebug”).
If the album finally falls short of a full FutureSex/LoveSounds transformation, well, Jonas did not have all those masterful Timbaland beats to work with. But considering he’s starting out about where Timberlake was in 2002 or so, I’d say he’s finally gotten himself on the right track.