Bon Jovi's latest album, "What About Now," dropped Tuesday, March 12 — although "flopped" is a better way to put it.
Expectations of a rejuvenated hard rock album were met with quasi-rock songs about paths for progress and hazy lyrics about committing to them. Mix in pop-country and plenty of the-only-place-left-to-go-is-up symbolism, and Bon Jovi's 12th studio album is born.
By giving the title track a quick listen, it's obvious that the album will take a sort of empowering stance that will give fans present at this summer's stadium tour something to fist pump about. The track asks the question, "Who stands for the restless and the lonely, for the desperate and the hungry?" The song's sincerity overpowers all and wins the day, as do several tracks on the album.
It's easy to criticize the band for producing another corporate-rock album, which they have for about the past decade (dominated by lead singer Jon Bon Jovi's harsh bark and Richie Sambora's tirelessly uplifting guitar lines), but it's hard to pinpoint them for still feeling affinity with their own working-man backgrounds.
That's not to say they completely disown their roots. "What's Left of Me" allies itself with "the teacher, the farmer, the union man" who find it "hard to make a living in this hard land." There are curve balls though. One character is a newspaper reporter-turned-Marine who returned home and felt unappreciated. Another is an ex-punk rocker who curses.
The highlight of the album, "What's Left of Me" may be seen as a protest song or even a modern folk ballad. The track is an cleverly crafted love letter to the recent past, including the decline of newspapers, the struggling U.S. economy and (slightly awkwardly) the Manhattan punk venue CBGB.
Regardless, the combination of "What's Left of Me" and "I'm With You" produce the vague I've-got-your-back attitude of the album.
On a more countrified contemplative note, "Because We Can" features the working-class heroes as a couple trying to save their broken marriage. Though the song takes on a more motivational speaker path, fans are not motivated by the vocals or lyrics of the entire album.
Take, for example, the clumsy lyrics in "Pictures of You" that say, "I feel just like Picasso, and you're my masterpiece." The band seems to have undergone a rock 'n' roll midlife crisis.
Instead of going out and buying a new motorcycle, Bon Jovi was determined to create an album so big and bad that people would have to take him seriously. "What About Now" dances around the troubles rife in America without actually citing them.
Unfortunately, the hooks on the album don't pack enough of a punch to give it a "big" sound.
Perhaps Bon Jovi thought that pulpy emotion would do the trick, as on the track "I'm With You," which includes a blatant nod to the gloomy cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" by Gary Jules (which was a hit a few years back after its inclusion in "Donnie Darko").
If that didn't work, the band also included a never-give-up sentiment in "Army of One," which includes rousing, four-man chanting. The album seems to focus less on quality rock music and more on feel-good numbers about how the common man can still conquer the world.
It seems that Bon Jovi may not be the same hell-raising hard rock band it once was.