You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows, to quote one 1960s teen idol of some renown. And as I use my friends' Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds as my gauge to forecast the national mood, I can't help but noticing the sense of dread and anxiety creeping into everyone's comments these last few days--an overwhelming sense that hard times are ahead, that things are going to get worse before they're going to get better, and that difficult, almost unfathomable sacrifices will have to be made. Whether it's expressed as gallows humor or in the language of real depression, you can feel folks shutting down in anticipation of the spirit-wrecking desolation they assume to be nigh. There can be no doubt about it: People are really, really not looking forward to taking their kids to the Jonas Brothers' 3D movie this week.
So, like Obama standing before the Congress, let me unwrap the noose from around your neck and extend a message of hope. Which is this: If all you proud parental kvetchers can just get over yourselves, you may find that both the Jonases and their concert movie are pretty good. No, better than that: The dreaded trio are, in fact, perfectly aces as a rock & roll band, and the film's a depth-of-field redoubling blast. It does occur to me that there is a history of people being sent to electroshock for saner talk, and that a teen-pop prophet is without honor in his own land. I would only urge you to open your ears and heart and realize what the men don't know, but the little girls understand: that well-crafted power-pop is well-crafted power-pop, regardless of the cheekbones and Disney contracts of the bearer.
Jonas Brothers: The 3D Experience kicks off with a staged sequence that will strike many chaperones of a certain age as nothing less than sacrilege. Under the main titles, we see the JoBros, trapped in a midtown traffic bottleneck on their way to a GMA appearance, escape from the sun roof of their limo and make a run for a nearby helicopter, pursued through the Manhattan streets by dozens of ravenous girls. There may be a little bit of Dawn of the Dead in there, but mostly it is a blatant homage to the famous kickoff to A Hard Day's Night, which found the Fabs similarly on the run from throngs of girls young enough to possibly not know what to do if they caught them. This should , of course, be taken as a playful nod to history and not the Jonases actually believing they're really in the same Beatleleague as their forebears in tween hysteria. And it's not as if we few, proud adult defenders believe they're three years away from making their Sgt. Pepper. The group's unofficial leader, principal songwriter and multi-instrumentalist MVP, Nick, is still a tender 16, so maybe we should give them at least seven or eight years before expecting them to come up with Side 2 of Abbey Road. But what they are coming up with is bloody impressive, and not just for their age. Listen to the dozen-plus songs performed in this concert movie (and it is a concert movie, not a pseudo-documentary, a few backstage bits aside) and you'll hear unpretentiously propulsive rockers like "Pushin' Me Away" that could have been hits even in the more demanding late '60s.
In fact, if many of the Jonas Brothers' songs appeared in a vintage compilation like Nuggets, the celebrated garage-rock collection that is a staple in every rock critic's household, the rock intelligentsia would have collective dry-mouth from slobbering over these newly discovered gems. Their music, especially the tunes from their third and by far best studio album, last year's A Little Bit Longer, are very much in the tradition of power-pop favorites like Cheap Trick and the Dwight Twilley Band. But there's a little bit of a problem. The Los Angeles Times review of the new film, which couldn't be bothered to definitely distinguish which brother is which, found the tuneage "mostly sounding like a modernized iteration of the glam-pop style of Cheap Trick or Redd Kross but minus the rust-belt roots or ironic self-regard." Sounds like a resounding endorsement to me, though the critic in question meant it as a slam. I loved Cheap Trick in the late '70s for the same reasons everybody else did: as a chance to recapture some of the glorious pop influences of the early Beatles, but with a wink that made it all okay, which came mostly in the form of Rick Nielsen's and Bun E. Carlos' hilarious utterly preposterous physical appearances. But two decades on, do we really require "ironic self-regard" as a prerequisite for enjoying the timeless virtues of nitty-gritty riffs, soaring hooks, clever bridges, and reasonably articulated puppy lust? Even if the purveyors are preternaturally talented, or at least largely self-made, teens? We once bought the earnest, adolescent glee of "Can't Buy Me Love" without forcing the song to pass some archness bar; perhaps it's not a nullification of everything we've learned about the world since to embrace it again.
I realize these kinds of statements are credibility killers, and any caveats about how I'm looking forward to the Leonard Cohen tour at least as much as the JoBros' may fall on dubious ears. So be a groan-up if you must, but if you have children with any kind of musical aspiration, perhaps you could find better targets for your scorn than kids who write their own songs (only a few of their recent numbers even credit a cowriter) and--urban myths to the contrary--play instruments. Proficiency may not be the reason your daughters are getting the vapors, and auteurism is hardly a requirement for great pop music, but the element of actual aptitude is a nice Jonas bonus, crucial swooniness notwithstanding. Do not give in to despondency, then, wary chaperones: You have nothing to fear but JoBro-phobia itself. And an imposing 3D eyebrow or sideburn or two.