Bon Jovi. A name and a brand synonymous with 80s hair metal, which is a genre term appropriately describing the priority order of hair, then metal. Even at the time, it was clear that this band was a little bit more vain and vapid than the rest, but they were also one of its stalwarts and masters. They made great music, they were sometimes even poignant and timely, and a lot of that has survived and still holds up today, albeit often feeling slightly more comedic than was intended at the time.
Even more surprising, the band has continued to record and release music pretty consistently, this being their fourth album of the past ten years. Most of these old bands only get together after at least that much time apart, and only fleetingly, to make a mortgage payment or reclaim something else they might have lost. Bon Jovi is different; they have sustained their success, as well as their youthful bravado and ambition. They don’t need to make records, so it stands to reason that they would do so only if they really wanted to.
So why does What About Now sound like stock music from a commercial for a pickup truck? All of those old anthems, those powerful songs equating love and murder and other such prodigious things, seem like they have been retooled here to punch softer and aspire to less. Not that recent Bon Jovi albums have been stellar or have even avoided the same problems, but this one in particular is startlingly weak. It’s a whimper.
The album is a long wait for a payoff that never comes. Throughout What About Now you are given fleeting glimpses of the true rock gods who live in this space, but whenever you hold your breath and prepare for a full-on assault of cocksure rock idolatry the only thing you can really expect is to be let down. They never break free of their bonds, preferring extremely safe, extremely boring, corporate-approved rock n’ roll.
I can’t pick a song here to highlight because they are ostensibly all the same. Absolutely nothing stands out, nothing rises up to take you by the throat. It’s a meandering, paint-by-numbers record that has been put through the wash a few dozen times to ensure everything comes out a little bit more dull.
The bright side of all this is that it isn’t horrible, at least not sonically. That’s the beauty of a very, very safe record. If you like Bon Jovi you can be sure that you will neither love nor hate What About Now, and you might find it makes perfectly adequate background music. It’s hard to hate something that ducks its head and keeps itself from making any sort of impression, unless you are a pretentious music reviewer at heart, in which case you, like me, might find the whole thing absolutely offensive and insulting to your intelligence.