Talkhouse Contributing Writer Peter Holsapple has sung and played guitar in the dB’s, Holsapple & Stamey, and Continental Drifters, as well as playing on albums and tours with R.E.M., Hootie and the Blowfish, Indigo Girls, and Nanci Griffith. He contributes to the New York Times‘ songwriter’s blog Measure for Measure, and has written pieces in several books on music. Peter is a charter member of Radio Free Song Club, a magnificent new songwriters’ collective. He considers himself among the luckiest people on earth.
Several years ago, my ex and I were getting used to the idea that, if our daughter had anything to do with it, Nick Jonas was eventually going to be our son-in-law. It was truly more serious than a simple teenage crush on a young entertainer: the pre-determined dynamic which would carry them through a blissful family life together was real, really real.
My daughter played me his music, and I liked it well enough — Nick’s success with family band the Jonas Brothers was made up of some fun guitarish pop with inklings of greatness, the songs which Nick had a hand in writing rose to the top of their catalogue (although their Top 40 cover of “Year 3000” is purely contagious too). Nick was the motivating musical force behind the band and among his siblings he seemed the most lovable, natural and joyous, at least in the photos she showed me. He definitely had the best hair.
We would listen to the Jonases, and she would tell me that he wrote these songs for her. She held them close to her adolescent heart of hearts, and destiny was sure to take hold of Nick’s senses. Ardor hung in the air like browning magnolias. I could only nod my head in mute acknowledgement, with the grim taste of the inevitable in the bottom of my mouth.
Eventually, she did get to do a photo-op with the Jo Bros at a show, but that’s about as far as it went. There is a picture somewhere amongst her belongings in which she stands smiling next to Nick, and got that close to realizing her dream.
But that was years ago; these days, our daughter has found a swell, grounded boyfriend who is not a touring teen megastar. And Nick Jonas is no longer a factor in our daily lives.
I’ll admit I was a little saddened at the thought of not having this cool kid as a relative. I’d been envisioning family campouts and picnics when Nick and I would whip out the acoustic guitars and play our favorite tunes, munching on s’mores and exchanging funny stories about the music business while my grandchildren romped around the lakeshore unsupervised. No more football talk, it’d be all string gauges and boutique amps. Ah, those would’ve been the days!
But maybe not. Nick’s just put out a brand-new album called Nick Jonas that he’s been working on since then. He has busily moved right along too, and he still sounds authentically great, albeit significantly different, like his new haircut. But he’s kept his hand on the tiller throughout this recording, and it shows. Nick’s a natural talent, he seems to know how he should sound. And he loves a good Prince jam.
Realistically, we probably couldn’t have brought a synth on a camping trip anyway.
I think that if you’re going to call your record by your name, it needs to be pretty exceptional. It will be the second hit when you Google your own name, and it’ll be in italics. I also think that if you call a second album by your name, you’re either Peter Gabriel (who currently boasts four eponymous records) or Nick Jonas, whose 2004 album was titled Nicholas Jonas. And Peter Gabriel has set the bar very high.
Nick has risen to the challenge admirably, and he’s made a truly interesting and enjoyable album. His participation in the songwriting and the sound of this record proves he’s been listening and learning the whole time, processing it with grooves and some classic moves that receive a sonic sculpting. He’s competing with the Justin Timberlakes and Pharrell Williamses, and he knows it. Nick is in this game to win, and he’s made a record to stake that claim. (There are even parental-advisory warnings on a couple of the songs on Nick Jonas, a first!)
Songs here are written by teams; the first two singles, “Chains” and “Teacher,” are by Jason Evigan, Ammar Malik and Daniel Parker, who have written for the Jonases’ old pal Demi Lovato. “Chains” is Nick’s first step into the next phase of his career — snaky, stark, suspenseful stuff led by heavy bass drum pushes, it’s a far cry from the Brothers.
The duet with Demi Lovato (“Avalanche”) is cool enough but a real standout is “Wilderness,” a cut-time stomper that swings proudly. It brought to mind John Kongos and Thunderclap Newman. I hope Nick plays that one live in his shows; a great band could really deliver it.
“Closer” is sawtooth-sharp, and “Want You” gets Nick’s most versatile singing performance overall. Musical theater background is writ large here.
There’s a beautiful track, consigned to the deluxe edition, that Nick wrote by himself called “Santa Barbara,” which creeps up on you like a Beach Boys b-side.
Will I play this record again and again for my own pleasure? That’s a tough call. I don’t listen to a lot of today’s pop music and, were I to own just one representative recording, this is a very mature and well-conceived example of the genre. My younger kids would probably love it if I did, my spouse probably less so. It’s a conundrum, for sure. (However, you know me, I’d probably still opt for John Kongos or Thunderclap Newman first.)
But I will buy my daughter a copy of Nick Jonas and would certainly own my own copy, proudly thinking of those fleeting moments of our shared destiny when we were almost family there for a minute, and it was really real.