BON JOVI: WHAT ABOUT NOW (2013)
1) Because We Can; 2) I'm With You; 3) What About Now; 4) Pictures Of You; 5) Amen; 6) That's What The Water Made Me; 7) What's Left Of Me; 8) Army Of One; 9) Thick As Thieves; 10) Beautiful World; 11) Room At The End Of The World; 12) The Fighter; 13*) With These Two Hands; 14*) Not Running Anymore; 15*) Old Habits Die Hard; 16*) Every Road Leads Home To You.
It was a little funny, I must confess, reading lots of irate reviews about how this record is not really «hard rock», is not really «Bon Jovi», represents «the beginning of the end» for the band and other equally sour reactions. Was there ever a period when this band was after anything but mass popularity? The only reason why Jon Bon Jovi has not turned into Nicki Minaj — which, if necessary and possible, he'd do in a jiffy — is because he's got, uh, T&A problems. Also, he's kinda old-fashioned and prefers to stay in that comfort zone where well-built, muscular guys rip the shit out of their guitars, at least visually. And since that kind of music still sells reasonably well today, despite all the attempts to push «classic rock» out of the spotlight, well, why change anything? Just another day, just another dollar.
The album did cause a rift between Jon and his loyal guitarist: Sambora was not seen all that much on the accompanying tour, throughout which he was largely replaced by session guitarist Phil X, and soon afterwards announced his departure from the band. True enough, he is only co-credited for about five out of twelve songs, while on the rest Jon shares credits with such seedy figures as John Shanks and Billy Falcon; has not a single interesting or outstanding riff to contribute; and is seriously misused even in the lead guitar department — the absolute majority of these songs depend on nothing but vocal hooks. Oh, sorry, vocal hooks and pomp — as the years go by, Jon Bon Jovi takes himself more and more seriously each day, and on What About Now, he is much more of a preacher than an entertainer.
I will not deny, though, that some of these songs are hooky. The anthemic singalong chorus of ʽBecause We Canʼ, the punchy album opener, is Super Bowl material alright, though I'm pretty sure it must have been lifted wholesale from some earlier roots-rock or country tune. Same with the sentimental ʽPictures Of Youʼ, same with the heroic-romantic confession ʽThat's What The Water Made Meʼ — although I know what the water really made that guy: it made him surreptitiously nick the inspiring background guitar/synth melody of David Bowie's ʽHeroesʼ and appropriate it for his own, much less original and much less subtle purposes. No, I am not being too judgemental, and I have no problems with musicians borrowing and recycling other people's ideas — it's just that this one feels way too blatant. Don't say I didn't warn you if on his next record J.B.J. samples ʽRide Of The Valkyriesʼ in one of his Big Social Statements.
Are we being too cruel? Well then, let me just backtrack a little and redeem myself by saying that somehow, on a certain level I do feel sympathetic to ʽWhat's Left Of Meʼ — as uninteresting as the generic «banjo-rock» arrangement of that song is, its «I'm-still-standing» vibe sounds more sincere than anything else here: the guy does sound like he really means it when he says "God, I miss the smell of paper and the ink on my hands" and when he complains about how "they sold old CBGB's". Not that Bon Jovi ever had much to do with CBGB's in the first place — yet somehow it is true that, as of 2013, Bon Jovi and the old CBGB residents seem to have much more in common than they would have in the mid-1980s.
But that does not change the general attitude. Had ʽWhat's Left Of Meʼ and ʽBecause We Canʼ been the most pretentious songs on the album, with the rest of it given over to regular vocal-hook-based pop rock fare, life would be adequate. As it happens, these are just the tasters for the real «Celine Dion-style» gala prayers — the syrupy, orchestrated ʽAmenʼ was written twenty years too late for the Titanic soundtrack, and the "never give up, never give up!" chorus of ʽArmy Of Oneʼ is more Alicia Keys, or even more Disney, than Bon Jovi. Oops, I think I'm falling into the same trap as all those allegedly cheated fans — let me quickly correct myself: what we have here is Bon Jovi trying to naturally morph their way into a Disney cartoon.
The album ends on a soft acoustic note, with Jon making yet another not-so-subtle reference to some of his heroes: "I am the fighter, though not a boxer by trade". What is it, then, about ʽThe Boxerʼ that will make that song stand the test of time, while ʽThe Fighterʼ is already forgotten? It's not really the melody — it's the attitude. Even at his softest and tenderest, Jon Bon Jovi still sounds like a straightforward, predictable, cocky guy who thinks way too much of himself — and, most importantly, believes that «thinking too much of himself» is already sufficient to write a song about it and offer it to the world. And nobody told him, or nobody was ever able to convince him that such is usually the recipe for a boring song at best — an offensive song at worst. But then again, who the heck could convince him if these sometimes boring, sometimes offensive songs kept selling like hotcakes all around the world? And neither my own thumbs down here, nor anybody else's will really make a difference. For that matter, What About Now hit the top of the charts all right — even though, in the era of predictably dwindling album sales, it sold less than any previous Bon Jovi album. But yes, the guys are still popular.