As a performer, you know you’re in deep trouble when People Magazine gives you two out of five stars in a review of your work.
Which is exactly what the celeb magazine did when they gave Bon Jovi’s new single 'Because We Can' a review which pointed out that it falls short of the ‘rock anthem’ punch the band has thrived on for decades.
Of course, the song has to be taken in the context of their upcoming work “What About Now” and how it plays well with, or separates itself from the whole.
Which might be a problem, because after listening to five of the new songs from last week’s BBC Radio performance, the rock appears to have rolled into middle age and 'Because We Can' may be the strongest song on the CD in terms of commercial viability.
In pre-performance interviews, Richie Sambora characterized the new music as a ‘natural evolution’ of the band.
Of the five songs sampled for this piece, it’s more like a regression to a point between ‘Lost Highway’ and ‘The Circle’.
Sad to say but everything on their previous “The Circle” record is stronger than “What About Now”, “Amen”, “That’s What The Water Made Me’, ‘Army of One’, and “What’s Left of Me” with the exception of ‘Bullet’.
Even the singles crafted for the 'Greatest Hits' collection---'This Is Love This Is Life' and 'No Apologies' in particular---sound more like Bon Jovi than those played live for the BBC.
“What About Now” sounds like ‘Lost Highway’s tougher older brother.
Though well-crafted, it is clear that Jon Bon Jovi’s voice is feeling the wear and tear of thirty years of belting out songs. Many will argue, 'he sounds great', 'his voice sounds strong' but in truth his vocal register is an entire octave lower with each record, and judging by the BBC video, he seems to be straining to hit the minimally highest note.
One of the staples of any Bon Jovi song is guitarist Richie Sambora adding his clean lines to a song in solo, and this is the first Bon Jovi song in recent memory where he doesn’t.
While it probably will be fuller and more driving on record, one wonders how this song would muscle up social conscience with the backing of a Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes horn section.
‘Amen’ is akin to ‘The Circle’s ‘Hallelujah’ with a nice acoustic accompaniment by Richie Sambora, but again no solo.
Sure to be a hit with the band’s enormous female fan base, Jon strongly hits the refrain higher notes because he’s starting lower. If ever a song screamed for Lorenza Ponce or a slide guitar accompaniment, this is it.
“What’s Left of Me” has the freshest sound and the most rock sensibility in it of the five reviewed, though fans who grew tired of 'It's alright, It's alright' in 'Who Says You Can't Go Home' will cringe at the thought of what multiple 'Hey Hey's' will do to crowd participation in concert.
“That’s What The Water Made Me” is possibly the most confusing song lyrically Bon Jovi has ever written since “I heard your suitcase say goodbye” line in ‘I'll Be There For You' (note: suitcases can't speak).
“That’s what the water made me
That’s who I am and what I’ll be”..
What exactly is that?
Are we talking baptismal water or a tsunami?
Though a great melody with a driving beat the lyrics here are as trite as can be.
In all likelihood when ‘What About Now’ is released the production values will be up to the usual excellent Bon Jovi standards of rich layered vocals over tight reliable musicianship.
And in fairness, performing these songs live is still new to the band, so no one can say for sure if the live sound is doing justice to what was laid down in the studio.
Yet still one has to wonder: when did such a fun-loving band with so much upbeat grit and determination start taking themselves so seriously? One man’s social commentary is another man’s nap time.
Here’s to hoping the other five tracks on ‘What About Now' leave the social commentary to Bruce Springsteen and possess some of the thrilling eclectic sounds that were created on Richie Sambora’s ‘Aftermath of the Lowdown” so they can at least look like they are having fun making and playing music again.
Read more articles by National Bon Jovi Examiner Glenn Osrin here.
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“Don’t know how
Don’t know what
Don’t know why”.
“Army of One” is the closest thing to an anthem of the ones performed. Defiance, optimism, and good old fashioned stick-to-itism is what Bon Jovi does best and this song is sure to instill hope in the desperate and provide an emotional lift to the depressed.