Saturday, December 2, 2006

Have a Nice Day

  What does a wildly successful purveyor of ‘80s big hair power ballads do in an ensuing decade dominated by fervent shoe-gazing and other attendant alt.cliches? If you’re Jon Bon Jovi, you scale back your band’s ambitions, retool yourself as surprisingly accomplished indie film and TV actor, and (mostly) wait for the pop music tides to turn in your favor again. But JBJ and guitarist/collaborator Richie Sambora didn’t let their band’s lukewarm ‘90s fortunes dampen their knack for hook-savvy songcraft, as this muscular anthem-fest argues at virtually every turn. BJ’s songs here may be as infectious as ever, yet they’re seldom mere confections, often infused with alternating doses of bracing cynicism (the title track’s sarcastic riposte to the ’04 election) and reflective, often bittersweet takes on histories both personal and otherwise. If it sometimes stoops to formula--the droning, metallic ethos of the obligatory big ballad "I Am" can’t overcome some equally perfunctory lyrics–it’s also an album with its share of warm surprises, be they unexpected nods to Dylan ("Last Man Standing," the acoustic idealism of "Bells of Freedom"), the hard-edged "I Want to Live" or a winning duet with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, "Who Says You Can’t Go Home." Bon Jovi may deliver a sonically burnished triumph here by largely going back to the future--yet does it with one ear crucially cocked towards the anxious energy of the recent past. -- Jerry McCulley

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