OK so I should point out straight away that I am a Bon Jovi fan.
Indeed I have been a fan since 1989 when at the tender age of 15 I heard ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ for the first time. In fact I liked that song, and the New Jersey album that it came from, so much that I saw the band in concert on December 28th 1989. My first ever live show and an experience I will never forget.
So with my “potential bias” disclaimer out-of-the-way, what of Bon Jovi, a band usually dismissed by critics? Well they are now thirty years into a highly successful career…a career that nearly came to an end as early as 1990 when the band were suffering from severe burn out (the success of “Slippery…” and “…Jersey” and the never-ending tour that followed meaning the band just didn’t want to see each other for a while). Luckily they carried on. If they hadn’t there would have been no Keep The Faith, no Crush and no These Days and it is the latter album that is the benchmark to which I compare all Bon Jovi albums.
I see the band as having three parts to their career. The first part from 1983 till 1991, a period where they became the biggest rock band on the planet. The second from 1992 until 2002 where they survived grunge and creatively hit their high point with These Days in 1995. The third part could be seen as from 2003 to the present day. The four albums during that time have all been good…just not that great. For every ‘Welcome to Wherever You Are’ we got a ‘Joey’. For every ‘When We Were Beautiful’ we got a ‘Whole Lot of Leavin’. They just haven’t been consistent and the band hasn’t’ stretched themselves. Their twelfth album What About Now is more of the same.
The album starts brilliantly with ‘Because We Can’, an anthem that will be sung in unison in stadiums around the world (just a shame it has a dodgy video with the lads dressed in Marks and Spencer’s finest clothes). ‘I’m With You’ is a steady song and has a cracking chorus. The album title track is a highlight which reminds me of ‘In These Arms’. ‘Pictures of You’ is OK but seriously “I feel just like Picasso, and you’re my masterpiece” will not have McCartney losing any sleep. ‘Amen’ is a ‘Hallelujah’ wannabe but I love it (not sure why). ‘That’s What the Water Made Me’ has a terrible title but is great fun and I can’t stop whistling along to it.
The second half of the album starts with ‘What’s Left of Me’, which is nothing new. ‘Army of One’ is destined to live long in the live set for years to come. ‘Thick as Thieves’ does sound like it is trying to be ‘Bed Of Roses’ but at least there is something approaching a guitar solo and although I don’t like the “thick as thieves” line it does have my favourite lyric…“it’s classic boy meets girl…”. ‘Beautiful World’ is harmless, ‘Room at the End of the World’ is pretty good and ‘The Fighter’ is an excellent closer. That along with ‘Army of One’ are the standout tracks for me.
Overall this is a solid seven out of ten Bon Jovi album. Maybe that is all we should expect these days after all there are not many bands that still sell a lot of new studio albums after three decades together but I still feel that we are entitled to want more. I don’t want a re-hash of These Days but that took a risk. Yes it wasn’t as commercially successful in America as previous albums and yes Jon maybe got a little scared and yes, as a result they went back to their safe place. It’s a shame as the songs on These Days really stretched who they were; also Richie was all over that record, something that is sadly lacking on the new album. It is noticeable looking through the song writing credits that Richie’s name isn’t there as much as before, maybe his solo record took him elsewhere at the wrong time.
There is not a lot wrong with this record but as a fan of 24 years what I really want is for the band to go for it again. I know they can do it; I bought the record which resulted then and “these days” I feel like it is time we heard them go for it again.