Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bon Jovi rocks on

album review

Bon Jovi are aspiring to sound like a watered down version of U2 with occasional folksy leanings, while venturing into Bruce Springsteen's heartland 

Band: Bon Jovi
Album: What About Now

Few bands can even dream of experiencing the same level of success as Bon Jovi, the New Jersey rock quartet who first appeared on the music landscape with their self-titled debut album in 1984 and have been going strong ever since. Selling 130 million records worldwide while maintaining a successful working partnership for three decades is certainly no mean feat, and that in itself is something the group deserves props for. The band, however, has not always fared well with critics, and their search for a new identity over the last few albums has generated a mixed response from fans and critics alike. With their twelfth album, What About Now, Bon Jovi have descended further into the abyss of commercial pop rock, diluting the sound that built their legacy and made them who they are in the first place, but have still given their fans a few reasons to punch the air as they sing along.

On What About Now, it appears as if Bon Jovi are aspiring to sound like a watered down version of U2 with occasional folksy leanings, while venturing into Bruce Springsteen's heartland. The result is slick and polished, but also subdued and predictable.

The political and social commentary on offer here is as bland as the tunes that are wrapped around it. There are ambiguously uplifting inspirational anthems which dish out vague statements that seem to have come straight out of a cliché generator. And there are softer ballads that yearn to be more effective than they really are. Listening to the whole album from start to finish in one go makes the material seem limp and indistinguishable, and it becomes hard to identify any standout ditties. The songs on the set will probably make a better impact if you listen to them individually instead of giving the album a continuous spin.

The material might also translate well in live performances. You can easily picture a stadium full of fans enjoying fist-pumping anthems like the catchy lead single 'Because We Can'. The Coldplay-adjacent title track 'What About Now' could effortlessly soundtrack any number of television montages and political rallies. And the mandolin on the blue collar anthem 'What's Left of Me' does add a slight refreshing tinge to the record. But what's missing is the rawness of their early material. All too often the overall results are lackluster and the optimism seems more saccharine than rousing.

What About Now suggests that Bon Jovi have lost their edge and are not pushing themselves to create something different or interesting. Their inability to commit to a solid, distinctive sound, and their decision to instead make more monochrome, predictable pop rock isn't helping their image. Fans of their early material might be weary of the path the group has chosen to travel down, and listeners who have previously had no interest in their music are very unlikely to find this album exciting. The band isn't trying to win over their detractors with this effort, but have simply made an inoffensive, middle of the road pop rock record that targets the mainstream market and does little else.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 31st March, 2013

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