Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
It’s not that I necessarily groaned when the Jonas Brothers embarked on a reunion in 2019. It was most likely to happen eventually, but it certainly felt tedious at best, especially considering they were always much more interesting as solo stars. (Well, at least Nick was. Joe could never quite find the right solo groove and Kevin, unfortunately, was nothing without his younger siblings.) The group’s reunion came after a period of soul-searching and mending fences that was chronicled in the Amazon Prime Video documentary Chasing Happiness, during which Nick embraced his inner Gretchen Wieners by essentially saying, “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me. But I can’t help it that I’m popular!” And even though the period of gaybaiting that accompanied his last two solo albums Nick Jonas and Last Year Was Complicated had run its course after he married a woman, it still felt hard to deny that Nick Jonas was just more interesting on his own—and the truth of that is quite evident on his third solo LP, Spaceman.
Sonically, Spaceman is the most compelling Jonas has ever been. Produced entirely by Greg Kurstin, the production is captivating and refined as each song bleeds seamlessly into the next. It’s certainly an improvement over the sounds of his previous two solo efforts which, while generating the success of several memorable singles, were a bit too experimental and generic simultaneously. (Let’s just never talk about “Bacon” again.) Jonas has stated that the album was largely influenced by the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining that it was conceived mostly at home while waiting for better days ahead. And if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, his solo music career would have probably still been on the backburner, as the Jonas Brothers had planned a now-cancelled Las Vegas residency show.
The title track, which serves as the lead single, deals with the brunt of the record’s themes of isolation, referencing feelings of disconnect with American society and culture at large: “They say it’s a phase, it’ll change if we vote / And I pray that it will, but I know that it won’t / I’m a spaceman.” While this is probably the deepest and certainly the most socially conscious Jonas’ songwriting has ever been, Spaceman’s lyrical content ultimately leaves a lot to be desired—causing the groovy production to fall short of the heights one would want the lyrics to reach. In fact, some tracks appear immature and tone-deaf in comparison to the lead single—namely “2Drunk,” “Delicious,” or “Sexual”—prompting the listener to assume that Jonas has the talent, vocal ability, and rugged good looks to be innately interesting on his own, but still lacks a certain quality as a songwriter to propel him further inward.
Indeed, it always seems that, upon closer examination, Jonas needs a woman to make him appear more thoughtful and intuitive: while on stage with Demi Lovato during the Future Now Tour in 2016, he remarked that she had encouraged him to strengthen his songwriting by getting more personal—the end result was “Chainsaw,” easily one of his best solo tracks. This combined with the fact that the singer’s exhaustive self-promotion on social media apps like Instagram and TikTok verges on prostitution implies that Jonas is somehow incapable of accomplishing deeper thought or emotion in his solo music. Unfortunately, the last thing the world needs right now is another straight white man singing, “Should I send that text? Maybe not / But I miss that sex, quite a lot / It’s 5:00 somewhere / Maybe you’re somewhere thinkin’ ‘bout me” or “You put the sex in sexual.”
The lack of depth often found on Jonas’ solo records is continuously frustrating, considering that his talent as a performer and vocalist are more than clear. The success of previous singles such as “Jealous,” “Chains,” or “Close” also suggests that the singer is a fan of a certain brand of pop music that typically eschews originality or depth in favor of a good campy, repeatable romp. (It’s no wonder he baited gay men for so long.) But with Spaceman, Jonas proves that he has the ability to be audibly subversive and memorable, delivering sounds that could easily transport the pop music fan to an imaginary dancefloor. It’s just the words that still need some work, perhaps by beginning to hold male pop stars to a bit of a higher standard. “I know, nothing is perfect, but this is close / So don’t go, keep it comin’ in my direction,” he sings on the escapist anthem “This is Heaven.” Spaceman is far from perfect, but in an age of isolation, maybe it’s a sign of hope.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Spaceman: “Don’t Give Up On Us,” “Heights,” “Spaceman,” “This is Heaven,” and “Dangerous”