Artist: Bon Jovi
Album: What About Now
It pains me to say it, as a long-time adamant Bon Jovi fan, but What About Now is a very disappointing album. I’ve never really had reason to describe the band as predictable before but this strays quite firmly into over-familiar and repetitious territory, far too content to drum up the same half-bitten rock anthems over and over again. The album seems to unfold almost entirely in fourth gear and only really develops some sense of character in its closing songs. The tempos are strictly regulated, the instruments muted and unimaginative, and the songs plagued by the same relentless, almost sanctimonious ‘you-can-do-it’ motif. Considering the scale the band are going for and the carefully-measured attempts at sweeping stadium rock, it’s remarkable how dull much of What About Now sounds. It’s too restricted and restrictive and doesn’t bring much in the way of either engagement or enjoyment. Worst of all, a lot of it comes across as just plain lazy – as though the band could have reached out and attempted something complex and powerful, but opted not to out of either fear or lack of interest.
Playing it safe isn’t necessarily the most damning route for a band to go down. However, when the band in question have been performing for over thirty years and given the world some of the most brilliant and memorable rock anthems of their era, it is disappointing to see. It’s difficult to contrast the exciting, balls-out theatricality of their earlier years with the likes of What About Now. A band will naturally change over time and a change in sound isn’t to be derided off-hand, but Bon Jovi have become noticeably devolved and muted with age. The songs on this album are so comfortable they’re all but forgettable and it’s hard to forgive the persistent insistence on numbing their guitars and edge. “Because We Can” comes across as almost a spruced up church song. Its ambling, nonchalant pace and basic notes make for pleasant listening but leave a negligible impact. “I’m With You” is similarly low-key, rooted in acoustic instruments. It adopts the same sentimental outlook but it’s too predictable to really take root. The title track is a little more energetic and does manage to make a decent rallying cry, but its subdued maturity is too characteristic of the rest of the album’s failings to endear.
What About Now does develop a little more life in later songs. “Amen” feels like purer Bon Jovi in terms of its big brawling emotion and molten string section. The sound is more cinematic and expansive, with powerful vocals and a heartfelt, engrossing charm. “That’s What the Water Made Me” walks a finer line – erring on the side of heinous, but with so much fervour that it’s difficult to resist. It has the same upbeat, poppy layout but there’s something deliberately impassioned and searching to it. This sense of determination does much to shroud its faults – not least because it’s one of the few songs on which the band sound like they really made an effort. Too much of the album consists of dreary, lax performances and it shouldn’t be this easy to pick out the ones that have some commitment. What About Now would play a lot better if it sounded more like the band were genuinely engaged or interested in what they were performing.
This much is typified by the final two tracks. “Room At the End of World” is rugged and lifelike, injecting real momentum where many of the other songs were lacking. The preachy idealism remains in force but this one is far more vivid and compelling, with real heart and soul peering through. “The Fighter” is a stunning song, ending the album on its only proper high note. It’s slow and tender, speaking of unsung heroes with warmth and intimacy. The instruments are unchallenged but they’re more intricately used, bringing hope and poignancy to a touching story. Had the band managed to replicate this skill elsewhere, What About Now would make a far stronger case for itself.
I’ve possibly been a little harsh in judgement here and yet, it feels like such is required when the band in question is such an established name. This album will find its place amidst long-term fans but is a disappointingly flimsy addition to Bon Jovi’s stellar back catalogue. Inspiration may be running thin on the ground these days, but they could do with looking a good deal deeper than this.
Review written by Grace Duffy