"You have to like Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey,” Jon Bon Jovi once joked. "It’s the law. If you don’t, they put up your taxes."
It must rankle with Bon Jovi that over their 30-year career, his band of soft-metal stadium-fillers have never been regarded with remotely the respect and gravitas routinely granted to his home state’s most famous musical export, and on this twelfth album he takes on the Boss at his own game.
This means earnest, sympathetic songs about ordinary people struggling through times of economic hardship; union men who see their livelihoods exported; and damaged soldiers returning from Iraq. Bizarrely, What About Now’s title track even opens up with a Dancing In The Dark-referencing lyric, “You want to start a fire, it only takes a spark.”
Sadly, the band’s perennial propensity for clichés and Hollywood blockbuster-style happy endings invariably make it difficult to take Bon Jovi as seriously as they crave. It’s hard to imagine Springsteen ever penning anything as platitudinous as the cheesy Before We Can, or the toe-curling chorus to Army of One: “Never give up, never give in.”
There are some good tunes. It’s a decent soft rock party album. It’s probably also about time that Bon Jovi knew their limits.