Bon Jovi Gives Themselves A Bad Name With Tired, Cliched New Album
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 22:03
Thirty years after their initial formation, Bon Jovi is back with What About Now, the group’s 12th studio album. The New Jersey rockers, headed by Jon Bon Jovi and famous for mid-80s classics like “Living’ On A Prayer” and “You Give Love A Bad Name,” have continued recording steadily since their 1999 reunion—which brought about the hit song “It’s My Life” and temporarily galvanized their career by introducing them to a new generation.
Alas, those days of rekindled success seem long gone from Bon Jovi, and What About Now is unlikely to change the situation. A collection of interchangeable and generic rock songs married to vague political and social themes, the album is a mess—sometimes dull, sometimes awful, never making a convincing argument that Bon Jovi is relevant in 2013.
The album kicks off with a big stadium rocker, “Because We Can.” It’s actually one of the album’s better moments—a likable anthem about the perseverance of love that features some decent lines, a nice medley of voices, and a strong hook. Despite its strengths, though, there’s no escaping the feeling that it is a bit too tame, lacking the energetic punch of the group’s classics. The song’s lyrics speak of wanting to stand out from the crowd, opening with the lines “I don’t wanna be another wave in the ocean / I am a rock, not just another grain of sand.” But like so much of What About Now, the song fails to make a lasting impression.
The entire album is a compendium of rock-and-roll cliches, relying on familiar sonic structures and tired lyrical metaphors. The title track is one of the worst offenders. The opening line should set off a red flag: “You wanna start a fire / It only takes a spark.” From there, Bon Jovi’s appropriation of Bruce Springsteen tropes only grows more obvious, as the chorus rails off a long list of people that we should stand up for. The restless! The lonely! The desperate! The hungry! The song strains to show off its political conscience, but it’s little more than a string of wishy-washy sentiments against a generic soft rock background. It’s a subpar imitation of Wrecking Ball, the latest Bruce Springsteen album that addressed America’s economic inequality and political woes with infinitely more imagination and insight.
The more Bon Jovi aims for grand statements, the more the album falls flat. “What’s Left of Me” is a terribly treacly and sentimental song about the woes of the modern American worker. “Amen” is a strange beast, a country song overwhelmed by bad religious imagery. “That’s What The Water Made Me” continues this unfortunate striving toward religious significance. Its lyrics contain mentions of water, angels, heaven, and hell, but none of it adds up to much.
The album’s high points, such as they are, come from the tracks with more modest ambitions. “Pictures of You” is a nice little love song that doesn’t try too hard, and soft acoustic closer “The Fighter” is a pleasant conclusion, avoiding the heavy-handedness so prevalent in the rest of the album. The song’s major miscalculation, though, is its several lyrical nods to Simon & Garfunkel, which have the perverse effect of taking you out of the song and reminding you of much better music.
The entire album is like that, really. There’s no new territory explored on What About Now, nothing that hasn’t been done better by other artists or even by Bon Jovi in their heyday. The whole enterprise can be summed but by the chorus of the album’s worst song: “Does anybody want what’s left of me?” That might as well be Jon Bon Jovi singing about his own music career—but chances are, he wouldn’t like to hear the truthful answer.