The release of a 13th Bon Jovi album won’t change many minds. After a three-decade career, most listeners have already formed an opinion on the New Jersey rockers’ rousing stadium-filling choruses.
A new album offers little more than a fresh excuse to refill the coffers and add a few more set fillers to a multimillion-dollar touring juggernaut that is still dining out on 1980s anthems.
But, still, there is a little extra scrutiny on this record than you might expect. As well as being unlucky number 13, Burning Bridges is also the first without long-time guitarist Richie Sambora, who was dismissed in 2013 following addiction issues.
So what, right? Most casual fans need relentlessly reminding that – despite the egotistical name – Bon Jovi are a band, not one man, and Jon Bon Jovi wrote most of said band’s biggest hits alongside a certain sparring partner. It’s not quite in the same league as Mick touting The Stones sans Keith, but a Sambora-less Bon Jovi is a significant loss, for sure – more akin, perhaps, to Axl Rose fronting Guns N’ Roses without Slash (a sacrilege many fans will never forgive).
If Sambora’s departure offered any chances for the remaining band members to reconnect or reinvent themselves, they have been squarely ignored.
JBJ, for example, could have revisited the confessionalism of his 1997 solo album, Destination Anywhere. Keyboard player David Bryan – the composer behind Broadway musical Memphis – might finally have been given a moment to shine. They could have tried, well, something new.
Instead, Burning Bridges is the sound of a band at its least inspired – many of these tunes are cast-offs from old sessions, dusted off and, presumably, spitefully overdubbed with new guitar parts (no credits are included).
Exhibit A: I’m Your Man, a typical post-Springsteen rocker that will surely serve concert punters as a good excuse for a toilet break.
Piano ballad Blind Love sounds like it was written on a napkin, with the help of a copy of Harmony for Dummies.
The acoustic Fingerprints treads water for six, leaden minutes. Stomp-rocker Who Would You Die For lumbers along like a lorry struggling up a steep hill.
“I’m not afraid of burning bridges, because I know they’re going to light my way,” wails JBJ on We Don’t Run, twice, which comes complete with a shredding, 1980s-style guitar solo, concocted solely to rub Sambora’s face in it.
And perhaps that’s the point – proof that it’s business as usual, that JBJ can continue to churn out by-the-numbers rock fluff all on his own, thank you very much.
That’s not strictly true, though, as all but two of the tunes here boast a co-writer. One of those is Sambora, on the album’s first single – and best song – a mature rejoinder to Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night, called Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning.
Even JBJ has washed his hands of Burning Bridges, decreeing it a “contractual obligation album”. The country-flavoured title track is a tongue-in-cheek send-off to Mercury Records – “the last song you can sell” – the band’s home for 32 years.
There is a “real” post- Sambora album set to follow on a new label in May next year. This predecessor is a stopgap “fan record”, rushed out to coincide with the band’s upcoming tour of Asia, which will stop off in Abu Dhabi on October 1.
Sorry Jon, but that’s just not good enough – shouldn’t they all be for the fans?