Release Date: Mar 12, 2013
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Album Rock, Arena Rock
The 12th Bon Jovi album extends the Springsteen liberalism in JBJ's stadiumrattling Jersey cheese into full-on "social commentary" (his term). "What About Now" and "I'm With You" are rousingly vague got-your-back anthems. But the songs also have a countrified contemplative side; on "Because We Can," the working-class heroes are a couple trying to save their marriage, and "What's Left of Me" decries the passing of punk club CBGB à la Springsteen lamenting Giants Stadium – "All that's left are the T-shirts, and they come from Japan." Hey, Obama, bring back the rock T-shirt manufacturing sector, now! .
The title track of Bon Jovi's 12th studio album poses a question: "Who stands for the restless and the lonely, for the desperate and the hungry?" Well, Bon Jovi stands for them, of course, so the band have reached out with the sort of empowering platitudes and riffage that will give fans on this summer's stadium tour something to punch the air about. And yet ... the song's evident sincerity cuts through the bluster and wins the day, as do several others on the album.
When I was 12 and first discovering rock music there was nothing wrong with liking Bon Jovi. I got into Nirvana just the the right side of Kurt Cobain's suicide, I loved Guns N' Roses, I had a Megadeth t-shirt and the cover of Cannibal Corpse's Eaten Back To Life as an A2 poster, despite never hearing a note of the album. It was all rock music, it all fundamentally represented the same thing to me.
One of the great unheralded midlife crises of rock & roll belongs to Jon Bon Jovi, who decided sometime around the turn of the millennium that he wasn't being taken seriously, so it was time to make music that mattered. He wound up taking detours after 2002's Bounce, the album that inaugurated this phase -- and, it has to be said, that 2007 country detour Lost Highway was both his best and biggest record of the decade -- but as he crept closer to 50, the music of Bon Jovi got increasingly somber. What About Now, following a long four years after 2009's The Circle, continues down this sober path, as the group splices elements of U2, contemporary country, Coldplay, finger-plucked folk, and, yes, Bruce Springsteen into a monochromatic dirge.
With the Nashville curveball of 2007's Lost Highway increasingly looking like a one-off, Bon Jovi's 12th studio album finds them on familiar ground, arena-pleasing blue-collar anthems of everyday struggle sitting alongside overblown power ballads. Album highlight What's Left of Me is an artfully constructed love letter to the recent past, taking in the decline of newspapers, the US economy and – slightly jarringly – punk venue CBGB. But Army of One finds them descending into lyrical self-parody with its "never give up" motif hammered home artlessly, the title track's guitar hook nods too much to Kraftwerk's Computer Love (and, by extension, Coldplay's Talk) and Amen is suffocatingly cloying.
BON JOVI “What About Now” (Island) Bon Jovi is a big band, but which kind? Neutrality has been its bag for most of its mature period, which spans roughly the last decade. That followed an extended period devoted to thin-leather arena rock, notional gestures to hair metal and power ballads. Aging elegantly is still an option for this group, which has a platform but rarely a firm idea of what to use it for.
A condemned killer sardonically asking for his baby to be seated on his lap before the executioner turns on the electric chair is a masterful lyric in Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska.” Jon Bon Jovi pilfers the image for “Thick as Thieves” and mangles it into a show of affection. But that’s what Bon Jovi does with his namesake band: pound life into treacle. “What About Now” is just more fuel for the juggernaut, with nothing to tick off the base or make detractors rethink their position.