Monday, 1 April 2013

Bon Jovi's 'What About Now' - Album Review

It goes without saying that Bon Jovi are one of the biggest rock bands of all time. They have been selling out stadiums world wide for over three decades now and are household names for even the most casual of music fans. I have always seen their career in three distinct periods. Firstly, the glam, arena rock period from 1984s self-titled debut album to 1988s New Jersey. Secondly, the more darker, stripped down rock period from 1992s Keep the Faith to 2002s Bounce; and finally, their current period which contains the best of both previous periods mixed with other sounds such as country and pop. Their twelfth, and newest, album What About Now is a natural follow-up to 2009s The Circle full of heartfelt lyrics and pop sensibilities. The band no longer has anything to prove, and they are now making records that they want to make. The big hooks are still there, the great guitar work from Richie Sambora is still there but neither are as in-your-face as on previous albums. This is a definate slow-burner, one that takes many listens to fully digest and appreciate because the melodies are much more subtle than before. Those who persevere will be rewarded, and a very good album will emerge from one that many have already dismessed as boring or lacking any real tunes. As always with Bon Jovi, the songs are from the heart and Jon Bon Jovi's stellar vocals really help to carry the material.

Things get underway with the album's single and most immediate track Because We Can. It is poppy, anthemic and classic. This is the sort of thing Bon Jovi fans have come to expect from the band and this is the sort of thing the band excel at. The chorus is instantly memorable and is another in a string of excellent singles from the band over the past decade or so. It would not be a Bon Jovi album without a song like this, and I can see their huge crowds screaming the words at the top of their lungs at their shows. The next highlight is the album's title track. After an upbeat intro, the verses transform into a bass-led affair before a classic Bon Jovi chorus takes the song away. As with many of their recent albums, Jon Bon Jovi is once again channelling his inner Bruce Springsteen here and the lyrics are quite hard-hitting as a result. Pictures of You is next, and this is a really strong track. It would not be a Bon Jovi album with it's share of love songs and this is maybe one of their best so far. The lyrics are particularly good on this song, and are a new take on the tired and clichéd love song formula. It is deceivingly upbeat and features the first memorable (albeit short) guitar solo on the album. The next highlight is the rocky That's What the Water Made Me. A guitar-led piece with a typical Bon Jovi melody make this one of the best songs on the album. The chorus is very catchy and is instantly accessible. There is another very short, and simple guitar solo - and for me at least, that is what the album lacks. The guitar work is quite limited, and looking at the writing credits it seems Sambora has not been as involved in this album as he usually is (he only co-wrote five of the twelve tracks on this album) and it is a shame as 'Bon Jovi/Sambora' has been one of the most successful writing partnerships in recent years.

What's Left of Me follows and this an acoustic-lead song with another great chorus that dares you not to sing a long. There is some delicate slide guitar work under the vocals in the chorus and this helps to emphasise the melodies. Surprisingly, there is decent length solo here too - possibly the song that highlights Sambora's playing the best on this album. Another anthem, the Boss would be proud! Army of One is next and is quite an atmospheric track with David Bryan's keyboards dominating the sound (wow, you cannot say that very often..). It was co-written by Desmond Child who has had a very successful relationship with the band of the years, and while this does not reach the hights of collaborations past - it is still a nice little tune with overt pop overtones. The next highlight is Room at the End of the World. It is quite a melancholic song that has an understated epic quality that is hard to describe. The sort of song that plays over a sad, yet pivotal moment in a film and just adds to the emotion of the characters on screen. That is the only way I can describe the feeling this song gives. Very powerful stuff. The album closes with the acoustic song The Fighter, which again brings Springsteen to mind - but many of the lyrics seem to reference Simon & Garfunkel songs and some of the vocal harmonies are also very similar to the iconic folk duo. A great way to end an album, the song is beautiful. Overall, this is a pretty strong album that takes a good few listens to really appreciate it. It is not that the material is complex, but it seems that the melodies are much more elusive this time around and need to be looked for. Well worth a purchase!

The album was released was released on 8th March 2013 via Island Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Because We Can.

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