If you are a die-hard Bon Jovi fan and you planned to whip out the hairspray, spandex and glitter to get you in the mood to sit down and listen to the new Bon Jovi CD What About Now, don’t do it.
Stay stuck in the past, that is.
Ditch the retro chachkas and the MTV memories and do pick up a copy of the band’s 12th record, which is their most diverse and ambitious effort since These Days.
Produced by John Shanks, and sound engineered by the indispensable Obie O'Brien, the melodies break new ground while proving that there is nothing wrong with Jon Bon Jovi’s voice.
Always a tight band, the musicianship is masterful and for once gives each band member an opportunity to shine, and not merely blend in for the sake of their front man.
In fact, keyboardist David Bryan gets more work on this one record than a popular prostitute in Amsterdam on spring break.
Drummer Tico Torres shifts easily from thunder-claps to nuanced heart-beat rhythms and bassist Hugh McDonald still provides the life pulse of this band, even if it is from the back of the soundstage.
Seriously now, when was the last time you heard a mandolin, a full orchestra, and even brass horns on the same Bon Jovi record?
Curiously, only five of the 15 songs on the Deluxe Edition are co-written by New Jersey’s own Cool Slim Duke, Richie Sambora.
But oh does he shine on track after track, his chord-coaxing slender fingers make his ax growl and grind, then slide and soar with muscular confidence and the renewed vigor of a man back from the brink.
So different and fresh in sound are these tracks that one wouldn’t have been surprised if Jon Bon Jovi had put the record out under the moniker Jon Bon Jovi and the Soul Foundation Band.
This record could have easily been a Jon Bon Jovi solo project, but it would have sacrificed the majesty and depth of the band contributions.
That’s because thematically, the songwriting of Bon Jovi, Sambora, John Shanks, Billy Falcon and Desmond Child throughout the record touch on valuing ever-lasting love, learning from the past and moving on from it rather than trying to live in it, and the endless challenge of digging deep inside for faith and hope and renewed dreams in a world that is a lot harder than Tommy and Gina ever imagined back in the day.
Ironically, Bon Jovi's obvious empathy for the downtrodden, disrespected and disenfranchised has drawn criticism in other reviews of What About Now.
Specifically, the notion that somehow a rich rock star like Jon Bon Jovi can’t sing about the misbegotten unfortunates who come home from war without a place in society or the collective masses in America that got screwed in the Great Recession.
All because he’s not Bruce Springsteen.
Other than magnificent love songs that counter-balance the ‘social conscience stuff’ like jewels within a lotus, the larger relevancy of this record is that it very nearly could be a postcard to the world from the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.
No disrespect to The Boss but Jon Bon Jovi has logged more hours over the years helping countless charitable organizations other than just his own---and all the Bon Jovi members as well---that the band’s credibility in singing about the larger social issues is not to be questioned as some critics are rife to do.
If the record has a weakness it is Bon Jovi’s over-used reliance on 'Hey Hey Hey' as a bridge to a chorus and the sappy use of 'Baby Baby Baby' to open That's What The Water Made Me.
It might make sense in the studio, and Lord knows it generates fist pumps in concert but the 'Hey Hey Hey' is old and tired and needs to be put down like a lame horse.
Is this latest record another ‘Bounce’ or ‘These Days’? Or perhaps the mid-life incarnation of a band trying to go back to the future of the carefree, testosterone driven 1980’s licks that launched the band from the humble beginnings of Slippery When Wet and into the stratosphere over New Jersey?
Not even close. But that’s the point. It can’t be.
A solid band grows up while a great band grows up and helps show us the way.
Whether it’s one against the world in Army of One or a soldier returning home from two useless wars in What’s Left Of Me, Bon Jovi unfailingly delivers the goods with their special brand of Empathy Rock.
From Bounce through Lost Highway and The Circle, New Jersey’s favorite sons remind us that our lives are not about the ‘me’, but are far more satisfying and fulfilling if we focus instead on the ‘We’.
And just when you think you’ve had enough of that mantra, they throw in a magnificent gem like Pictures of You (only the best song on the CD), and Amen, which stands as a mid-life morning after reverie to Bed of Roses.
What About Now succeeds on the simple premise of yesterday being gone, tomorrow possibly never coming, and the realization that no matter what our circumstances, today is all we have.
Through it all and now going on four decades, Jon Bon Jovi and Company are ‘with us’; they understand, they get it, the world is a messed up place sometimes but then we have moments that are ethereal, graced with ‘pictures of you’; moments that take our breath away and move us to say ‘Amen’.
Deluxe Edition Songwriting Credits
Because We Can (Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Billy Falcon)
Im With You (Jon Bon Jovi & John Shanks)
What About Now (Jon Bon Jovi & John Shanks)
Pictures Of You (Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, John Shanks)
Amen (Jon Bon Jovi & Billy Falcon)
That’s What The Water Made Me (Jon Bon Jovi & Billy Falcon)
What’s Left of Me ( Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Billy Falcon)
Army of One (Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Desmond Child)
Thick As Thieves (Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, John Shanks)
Beautiful World (Jon Bon Jovi & Billy Falcon)
Room At The End of the World (Jon Bon Jovi, John Shanks)
The Fighter (Jon Bon Jovi)
With These Two Hands (Jon Bon Jovi & Billy Falcon)
Into The Echo (Jon Bon Jovi & Billy Falcon)
Not Running Anymore (Jon Bon Jovi)