Remember when, if you heard someone associated with the Disney Channel extol “the club,” they meant the one where you needed mouse ears to get past the velvet rope?
Latest among the Disney grads hoping to energize the adult dance floor is Joe Jonas, who’s traded rock & roll for club bangers at the same time he’s shed his rocker’s mop-top for a swarthy partial buzzcut.
But "Fastlife," his solo debut, isn’t likely to make it past the club scene’s beefy bouncers into the disco fast lane.
Like Samson before him, Jonas seems to have shed some personality about the time he lost his locks.
“Fastlife” isn’t a terrible album, just a terribly producer-driven one, which leaves Jonas trying to fit into producer Danja’s all-electro arrangements as nimbly as he squeezes into the designer duds he now favors.
Capable musical clotheshorse that he is, Jonas barely registers as much of a presence on many of these breezy, instantly forgettable pieces of rhythmic fluff.
As the unofficial lead singer of the Jonas Brothers, Joe provided the edgier contrast to Nick’s more nasal tones. By contrast, on “Fastlife,” the 22-year-old sex god sounds quieter and breathier, like a mid-level actor who doesn’t want to come on so strong that he’ll upset his superstar director’s mise-en-scene.
It’s not as if Danja is exactly doing his most distinctive work here, either, though.
Maybe this is the end of an era.
For a few years, the Hollywood label had a stable of kids who almost resembled a repertory company devoted to reviving the power-pop scene of the '70s and '80s.
Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and the Jonases all cranked out some rockers that could stand with the best of the new-wave era — great singles all but wasted on the youngsters who were nearly the only ones ever to hear them.
But for these perfomers, growing up has come to be synonymous with giving up rock for disco.
Miley made the dance switch with her dud, “Can’t Be Tamed.” Labelmates Selena, Demi, and Allstar Weekend followed suit with their own nearly all-electronic albums, but didn't lose their sense of what makes pop singles work, nor their more sympathetic identities.
Now Joe is completing the transitional cycle (though his old-school-favoring younger bro, Nick, may yet lead him back to the land of Costello and Cheap Trick).
No one ever took Joe for the creative brains of the family operation, so maybe it’s no massive disappointment that “Fastlife” is as featherweight as it is.
And the album bears a few passably entertaining tracks, the best being “All This Time,” which — maybe not coincidentally — is the closest thing to a rock ballad, its martial beat notwithstanding.
Silliest? That's a tie between “Kleptomaniac” and “Love Slayer,” which has Joe bragging, “I’m ‘bout to shut this thing down-down-down-down-down,” the last word getting the kind of simulated record-skipping repetition that must’ve seemed awfully original 10 years ago.
As for the two tracks co-written for Jonas by Chris Brown, there’s probably a reason the R&B star didn’t save them for himself, especially the sloggy “Lighthouse,” which overdoses on tower and drowning metaphors.
That’s the closing track on the album … unless you count two remixes of “Just in Love,” one of which, on the explicit edition of the album, has guest rapper Lil Wayne dropping an un-Disney-fied F-bomb.
Once “Fastlife” fails to afford Joe the desired Timberlake-type transition, it should be time to grow the hair back out at least as long as the eyebrows and fast-track a JoBros reunion.
That'll probably come too late, commercially speaking, but the trio was always underrated — something unlikely to ever be said of this disco detour, if the ex-tweens of the future think of it at all.