“Love is a beautiful drug,” sings acclaimed New Jersey rock and country outfit Bon Jovi on the band’s 15th record “2020,” due out October 2. The rock legends who wrote some of the mythos’ greatest hits settle down on this record to pen some harrowing tracks about quarantine, the George Floyd Protests, but most of all, hope. “I’m just saying, ultimately, I really went out on a limb,” Bon Jovi told iHeartRadio, “It’s not ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’ This is a very heavy record.”
And heavy it is. From a heartwrenching story of war in “Unbroken” to the George Floyd murder in “American Reckoning,” to a solemn tale of loss under COVID-19 in “Lower the Flag”, “2020″ is a record with a lot to say. Recording for this record began in March 2019, but moved by the protests and political upheaval, the band returned to the studio in 2020 to record tracks with a socially aware edge. As the record draws on, and we’re hit with “I’m a comment that you’re reading on the bottom of a page/ I’m a patriot/ I’m a Russian hack by trade” on “Blood in The Water,” it is easy to forget that this is the same band that gifted us “Slippery When Wet” all those years ago.
However, where “2020” falls short is it’s lack of creative instrumentation and overproduction.
To claim that “2020” is a record without any musical merits is simply not true. It’s still Jon Bon Jovi, which means that hooks are strong and the rock anthems are as grand as they’ve always been. “Limitless,” while it is simply a pump-up stadium rocker a la Imagine Dragons begins with a peppy guitar line that sticks with you the rest of the listen. And that’s the problem– Bon Jovi grows leaps and bounds lyric-wise, but fails to pen any innovative musical ideas. “Do What You Can ” is unabashedly country, but country is certainly not a new frontier for the band. Almost every song begins with a catchy musical idea, then expands into squeaky clean guitar chords with a “woah woah” chorus in the background.
There are some excellent tracks in the list, too. The aforementioned “Lower Your Flag” is fantastic. The tale Bon Jovi weaves together on that track is chilling, and far darker than anything I expected from a band 15 albums in. “Do What You Can” is another great track that went surprisingly viral, and concerns the everyday struggles of life under quarantine. In general, Bon Jovi is still Bon Jovi, but minus the rawness and organic production that made them explode on records like “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey.”
So is “2020” worth listening to? Absolutely. The fact that Bon Jovi, 15 studio albums in, can still throw audiences a left hook and say something worth bringing attention to is truly admirable. Nonetheless, this isn’t simply a socially aware classic Bon Jovi record, and if you’re alright with sacrificing musical prowess for a little more social awareness, give “2020” a listen.