Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Released in March
In my 2009 review of Bon Jovi's last album, The Circle, I opined that the band's material, while still pleasing in a lot of places, had "an assembly line feel" to it. What About Now, their latest effort, sounds even more like the New Jersey band is simply going through the motions, with a predictable collection of stadium-ready anthems espousing the merits of working class heroes and self-belief. It may be uncool to admit, but I've been a huge fan of the band since 1987 and What About Now is such a disappointment that it'll be the first studio album of theirs since then that I shan't be buying. I regularly cite album sales figures on this blog because I find it interesting to look at how a musical artist's newest work is received by their fans (and not as measure of how good or bad something is, based purely on its commercial success or failure). What About Now was Bon Jovi's weakest sales debut for a studio set since 1995's These Days album opened with 73,000 copies sold, selling 101,000 copies in its first week. Also by comparison, The Circle and 2007's Lost Highway sold 163,000 and 292,000 copies, respectively, in their first weeks (all figures, taken from Billboard magazine, are from U.S. sales).
The lack of a potent first single may explain the diminished sale numbers. "Because We Can" is merely okay, with a big chorus that can't match its better verse sections. The title track, a likely single, is another solid enough song that falls short of being truly memorable with an overly familiar songwriting construct, including a bridge section that sounds awfully close to the one from the band's "In These Arms". Lyrical depth has never been singer Jon Bon Jovi's best strength and his dime store philosophy lyrics, such as the ones here proclaiming "You wanna start a fire, it only takes a spark/You gotta get behind the wheel, if you're ever gonna drive that car", sound more tired than usual. The entire album contains an eye glazing number of lyrics full of shallow wisdom like that, as well as so many self-empowerment lines like the "Never give up, you're an army of one" chorus from "Army Of One" (which, again, is otherwise pretty decent) that any power the positive words might even remotely have are dulled by his significant overuse of the theme. "Pictures Of You", the strangely titled "That's What The Water Made Me", and "Beautiful World" find JBJ, guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres, and keyboardist David Bryan serviceably regenerating the unabashedly populist, high energy pop metal sound that is the group's stock-in-trade. Of course, it wouldn't be a Bon Jovi album without some ballads, represented here in the "power" variety by the excellent "Thick As Thieves" and agreeable "Room At The End Of The World", and a couple more passable stripped-down tracks in "Amen" and "The Fighter" that rely on just an acoustic guitar, keyboards, and some strings. "I'm With You" and the Lost Highway outtake-sounding "What's Left Of Me" qualify as the album's biggest stinkers.
When the material is there, I'm willing to overlook the small nagging dislikes I've developed for Bon Jovi over the years: the aforementioned overused themes, the Bruce Springsteen ripoffs, JBJ's habit of weirdly mumbling his words at times, and the trend over the past decade of a band that prides itself on reflecting the struggles of the working man charging exorbitant prices for most of their concert tickets. A ticket in the pit (just in front of the stage) for one of their U.S stadium shows this summer will run you $400, a ticket in the reserved floor seating section behind that area is going for $200, and their Diamond VIP Experience Package will cost you an obscene $1,875 U.S. for a single ticket (it is only fair to note that they are also offering $20 tickets in the stadium's nosebleed sections). As a means of comparison, similarly top tier concert draws like U2 and Springsteen had floor ticket prices that topped out on their most recent treks at about $70 and $130, respectively. And at Bon Jovi's high prices, you're not even assured of getting a performance from Sambora, the band's second-most vital component after the group's namesake leader. Sambora's life the past few several years has seen its share of turmoil, with a divorce, a DUI conviction, him dropping out of two straight tours (he exited a 2011 Bon Jovi tour to enter rehab and mysteriously left the band's tour earlier this month because of vague "personal reasons"), and some dates cancelled because of vocal problems on the eve of a promo tour last fall to support his Aftermath Of The Lowdown solo album (which I reviewed here). And when the material, as it is on What About Now, is as spotty as its been since the band's first two albums in the early to mid 80s, those annoyances are magnified and less easy to look past. The stale and middling What About Now sounds like the product of a band in serious need of a creative lobotomy.