REVIEW: Bon Jovi – What About Now

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Artist: Bon Jovi
Album: What About Now
Genre: Rock
Label: Island

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.

SCORE: 4/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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  • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.brown.547 Elliot Brown

    What a shit review….let me guess you liked The Circle better than this album? This album sounds modern and fresh. open your ears and get out of the 90s. Into The Echo and With These Two Hands are awesome songs as is Beautiful World. This album kills The Circle and Bounce easy. Room At The End Of the World and The Fighter kick serious ass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/EduardoZute Eduardo Olmos

    Hey man, great review. Just finished listening for the third time this album and I too have to admit (and it really hurts me to do it) that I agree almost with everything you say. Bon Jovi definitely is not what they used to be, this album is boring and predictable. I could´ve heard most of the songs interpreted by any shitty pop-star of nowadays without even guessing it was a Bon Jovi song. Been a Bon Jovi fan since I was a kid, really disappointed with What about now.

  • Guest

    This is the

  • http://www.facebook.com/susana.parker.7 Susana Parker

    This is the first album since These Days where I don’t skip tracks. It’s more an album you’d expect from a Jon’s solo work but it works for me. It has flaws but the best in years.

  • thesedays_99

    I agree with this review. I’ve been a fan since the start. This is a very boring album and it has no edge. Lazy guitar playing and the cheesiest andmost cliche lyrics ever. Army of one is about the only song iI’ve played more than once. Bounce and Have a nice day are the last good attempt’s where the band rocked. Sad, but its all elevator music now. On a good note they still rock out in concert!

  • Grace

    I do believe I noted that The Fighter is an excellent song. And if you think this album sounds modern and fresh, I think you might be the one stuck in the past. Bon Jovi are one of my favourite bands and have been for a long time, but this album is sorely lacking. They’re capable of much better.

  • Grace

    I think their lyrical message is admirable, but they don’t do enough musically to give it an impact. It is sad to see so much watered-down fare make it into the record, but at least it doesn’t seem cynical – I think they are genuine in their message, just not very ambitious in transposing it. On the bright side, as you say, they’re fantastic live – I’ll be seeing them in June and I’m really looking forward to it, regardless of what impact this album has!

  • thesedays_99

    Yeah, I’ve seen them live everytime they’ve come to N.C. since 1995. The circle tour and this last tour were the only ones I didn’t go to. I hope they put out at least 1 more good album before it’s all said and done. Something with the energy they put in to Bounce. Bounce is my favorite of the “newer” albums and their 1st album, self titled, is my favorite of the older music. Thanks for responding fellow Bon Jovi fan! lol

  • lookatbowen

    The review is about spot on. I’ve got all the Bon Jovi albums, and some awesome bootleg live albums and the old stuff (New Jersey, Slippery when wet, Crush, Keep the Faith etc) is the Bon Jovi I wish for whenever they release a new album. They release too many ballad albums these days (no pun intended) and too much smiley pop / rock trash. I get they probably can’t reach the notes they screamed out back in the late 80′s early 90′s but still, playing it safe and releasing kak like this is quite sad especially when they have nothing to lose! Rock on Springsteen (Bon Jovi need to take a leaf out of your book).

  • http://twitter.com/Watties1269 Cal Watson

    Don’t diss The Circle. Brokenpromiseland is pretty well the best song they’ve ever song. Then we have We Weren’t Born…, Thorn in my Side and Work for the Working Man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.brown.547 Elliot Brown

    i agree about those songs….the rest of that album is zzzzzzzzz….and bounce is boring. They didnt even include any of its songs on the greatest hits.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.brown.547 Elliot Brown

    What the hell do you want them to sound like? This has a mix of Crush with Lost Highway essence thrown in. Great sounding album. Bounce is their worst as is Faith. I’ve been a fan since 86 and their best is new jersey. Jon might as well go solo cause everyone bitches they want rock….Listen to the HAND Album. Jon nails this….A+

  • Danny83

    Grace doesnt like the album, Get over it. This is the worst album they have ever made. Its Nothing compared to These days.

  • http://twitter.com/deVarebeke deVarebeke

    It isn’t groundbreaking, agreed, but still refreshing and by far their best effort since, well prbably “These Days” actually. And as stated here, don’t overlook that closing acoustic track, “The Fighter”, I think it’s the best Bon Jovi track since the Slippery/New Jersey era! It has a beatles-like progression in the verse, and decent lyrics by BJ standards. If they can carry on in this direction, there may be salvation down the road, and redemption in the eyes of critics.