One of the best post-boy band rehab albums since Justin Timberlake’s Justified.
While Nick Jonas languishes in a macho-man solo career to scrub away his past as a purity-ringed Disney star, his brother Joe and his new band DNCE embrace the classic boy-band sound – and, with their debut, have made one of the most convincingly sexy pop records of 2016 without even having to pose shirtless. DNCE is steeped in ‘70s funk-pop and is every bit the kin of latter-day disco darlings like the Weeknd and Bruno Mars. But it sounds as much like *NSYNC, One Direction, and, well, the Jonas Brothers as much as any of its elder forebears.
That Joe has chosen to disappear into the recesses of a faceless, indistinctly-named band is telling. DNCE doesn’t sell itself through Jonas’s star power; flamboyant guitarist JinJoo Lee, hirsute drummer Jack Lawless, and mohawked bassist Cole Whittle are as likely to be any fan’s favorite as Jonas (again, shades of his boy-band career; fans of singing groups love to fight over who their favorites are). You’d be forgiven for not knowing there was a Jonas Brother among them.
The tragedy is that Nick could have sung these songs better. Nick’s 2010 solo album Who I Am proved he could scream like Prince. When Joe screams, it sounds like he’s stubbed his toe. Still, he’s a hell of a presence. He’s as much taskmaster as frontman, shouting little encouragements and criticisms to his bandmates (“forgot the A, bro,” he jokes as the others spell the band name on the title track). One wonders if he had James Brown in mind; Brown used hand signals onstage to demand money from his band members if they fucked up.
He’s a little creepy, as male pop stars tend to be; he even drops an “I know you want it” on “Blown.” But one of the miracles of DNCE is how fun it makes sex sound. “Be Mean” is a pop song about BDSM written by someone who actually seems to understand how the fetish works (he’s a sub). And morning-after ode “Toothbrush,” like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love,” achieves the rare feat of illustrating how truly “dirty” sex is. Their hair is messed up, their breath is bad, they’re wearing the stained clothes from the night before, but they’re reveling in post-coital bliss.
Whittle has expressed the desire to sound like “disco funk hits played by a good garage band,” and appropriately, there’s a nice layer of fuzz on his bass throughout. There are a few goofy garage-rock affectations, like the Nuggets-y organ that opens “Blown” or the Cars-like intro to quirky lead single “Cake By The Ocean.” But for the most part, you’d have a hard time guessing this was a band of individual musicians playing at once given how slick the production is. This is not one of the year’s more inventively produced pop records, in spite of a couple cool touches here and there (the guitar tuner on “Zoom,” the perfect P-Funk backing vocals on “Doctor You”).
The album’s a bit too long at 50 minutes, and a few tracks could certainly have been pruned, especially clunky ballad “Truthfully.” But this is an understandable risk. Pop albums are long to increase the likelihood any individual song could be a hit, though so far they’ve only got one: “Cake By The Ocean,” which is a fantastic pop song even if the censored version is superior to the album version (“go fucking crazy” is substituted with “go crazy crazy,” which is a lot catchier and smoother). But aside from this, DNCE never tries too hard, and it’s that effortlessness that makes it one of the best post-boy band rehab albums since Justin Timberlake’s Justified.