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Jonas Brothers

A Little Bit Longer  Hear it Now

RS: 4of 5 Stars

2008

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History teaches us not to dismiss kiddie pop. Stevie Wonder was once Little Stevie Wonder, just as Lil Wayne was once little Lil Wayne, child gangsta rapper. And let's not forget ex-Mouseketeers Britney and Justin. Purists disdain teenybopper music as cynical pap, foisted on the young by Svengalis who lurk in the shadows, counting money. But bubblegum can be a great farm system, honing skills that pay dividends in later life.

Lately, Disney's kiddie pop has been plenty profitable, with High School Musical and Hannah Montana seemingly the only bulwarks against the collapse of the record business. Unlike Britney and her cohorts in the Nineties teen-pop boom, Disney's current stars are G-rated, easing tweeners' transition to adolescence with music that replicates the sounds of the Top 40 while leaving out the sex and complicated emotions. That's the case with Camp Rock, whose soundtrack offers vanilla takes on "Since U Been Gone"-style rock ("Our Time Is Here") and dance pop ("Hasta la Vista"). But the many self-esteem anthems ("Here I Am," "This Is Me," etc.) grade into narcissism — are they really instilling the right values? The bright spots here are Joe Jonas, who delivers pathos on the power ballad "Gotta Find You," and Disney's new ingĂ©nue, Demi Lovato, who bears down with a ferocity that suggests, when her inevitable solo album comes out, things could get interesting.

Vanessa Hudgens knows the rocky passage to adult celebrity. The High School Musical star is a tabloid fixture, thanks to viral photos of her sans schoolgirl togs. But on Identified, Hudgens hews to the Disney content code, only occasionally tiptoeing into double-entendre. Hudgens can't really sing, so her producers handle the heavy lifting. Several songs are helmed by pop wizard Dr. Luke — his lovely ballad "Don't Ask Why" is filled with heart-tugging melodic twists — while Hudgens submits to digital doctoring. "Party on the Moon" sets her tiny voice against a baroque swirl of effects. She sounds like a little girl who took a wrong turn and ended up in T-Pain's fun house.

Miley Cyrus is more self-possessed. With Breakout, Disney's queen bee finally has a sophisticated pop record under her own name, and she's venting the frustrations of a teen who's too grown-up to submit to her parents, teachers or anyone else. On the title track, co-written by Go-Go's drummer Gina Schock, she bellows that she's "tired of bein' told what to do." Cyrus, who co-wrote most of these songs, has co-opted Avril Lavigne's pop punk and sweet sneer. (The environmentalist anthem "Wake Up, America" finds Cyrus wagging her finger at the whole damn country.) But the songs feel genuine: What 15-year-old doesn't have a list of "seven things I hate about you," as Cyrus does? She's acting her age.

The Jonas Brothers are acting their dad's age. The boys' fantastic third album is steeped in the fuzzed-up guitars, three-part harmonies and cotton-candy choruses of Big Star and Cheap Trick. Power-pop die-hards awaiting the genre's commercial saviors must reckon with the fact that the messiahs have arrived . . . and they're a Disney boy band. On A Little Bit Longer, the trio dabble in R&B ("Burnin' Up") and balladeering (the terrific "Love Bug"), but mostly stick to uptempo rave-ups with ripping guitar solos and yelps of "yeah-aww." The Jonases co-wrote every song, and they take advantage of their autonomy, wandering off the Disney reservation in "Video Girl," a rant about wanna-be starlets ("They all want the money/They're all insane"). Overall, it's a blast — as assured as any American rock album released in 2008. Kids, are you ready to share your Jonas CD with the 'rents?

JODY ROSEN

(Posted: Aug 21, 2008)

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