Assuming each generation gets the teen idols it deserves, then today’s kids must have done something good — God knows what — to have merited the Jonas Brothers. These heartthrobs du jour have the faces that launched a thousand COSMOgirl! collages, but the lads have also evolved into a pretty terrific little rock band with their third album, which would count as creditable from a combo of any age, much less one whose ostensible leader, Nick Jonas, is 15. A Little Bit Longer could be a significant generation-gap closer; it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where Dad is demanding that Sissy put the Jonases back in the CD changer, right after he’s chucked less-deserving labelmate Jesse McCartney out the car window.
That will be especially true if Dad grew up on a heavy diet of Cheap Trick. Nick, the trio’s principal tunesmith, claims to be a huge Elvis Costello fan, but it’s hard not to suspect that he’s really been boning up on At Budokan. You picture him putting on that vintage disc, perhaps drawn by the familiar, comforting sound of all those screaming girls, dissecting exactly what combination of pop hook and guitar lick made that crowd swoon. Or it may be sheer coincidence that there’s a succession of excellent tunes in the middle of Longer during which you could nearly mistake the traded-off lead vocals of Nick and co-frontman Joe Jonas, 18, for Robin Zander’s own melodious scream. It’s a nice run of numbers that really gets going with ”Shelf,” an impassioned advisory not to leave the singers’ hearts in the titular location, and continues with ”Lovebug,” which starts off as a goofy acoustic hootenanny — almost in the style of the Beach Boys’ ”Barbara Ann” — before revving up the riffs and climaxing with some hard-rock howls. If these don’t convert Jonas-wary grown-ups, their Tiger Beat phobias may be terminal cases.
And the New Jersey brothers (rounded out by Kevin, 20, the guitar-playing eldest) have more than one (Cheap) trick up their sleeves, so not every song hews so specifically to that ’70s/’80s power-pop ideal. Opener ”BB Good” is the purest bubblegum of the lot, but still feels like bubblegum with some muscle to it; they pander too directly, perhaps, to those tween screams by having Joe bellow, ”I don’t wanna hurt you…I wanna kiss you!” but you can just about forgive that for the track’s nifty, nearly calypso-style bridge. That’s followed by the modest falsetto and funk guitar of ”Burnin’ Up”; they claim this is their idea of a Prince song, and if it doesn’t get there, it’s still the three-minute puppy-lust gem of 2008.
The album really has only one true, through-and-through ballad — the closing title song, a tune Nick wrote about being hospitalized for diabetes, which comes off as surprisingly matter-of-fact and unsentimental. Several more upbeat numbers bear comely choruses that suggest they might have been conceived as ballads, but rather than simply indulge worshipful lasses who’d probably gladly sway their arms to goop, the boys can’t help but keep credibly rocking out. For that, Jonas Brothers, the parents of the world salute you…and, possibly, secretly burn copies of their daughters’ CDs to play on their way to work. B+
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