Bon Jovi - We Weren't Born To Follow (single review)
I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't conflicted about the lead single from Bon Jovi's 11th album, The Circle. Debuting on radio airwaves this past week, "We Weren't Born To Follow" has a lot going for it; a pristine sound ready-made for radio, a catchy chorus and hook after hook. Then why am I conflicted over it? I hate to say it, but it feels like this ground has been walked down before. Bon Jovi has managed the impossible; they have made more money in the last decade than they did during their initial commercial prime. Most of this money has stemmed from concert revenues, which has been punctuated by yearning need for nostalgia and two monster singles, "It's My Life" and "Who Says You Can't Go Home". Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora have a gift of melody that almost any artist on the planet would give up their limbs for. My issue is that ever since the eruption that was "It's My Life" in 2000 they have followed the same template time and time again. "Everyday", "Complicated", "Have A Nice Day", "Summertime", "I Love This Town" are all cut from the same cloth and with each new release, it becomes less and less novel and doesn't just border on clichéd, but shows a lack of sophistication. This was a band that evolved on every record through the release of Crush in 2000. Listening to songs like "Dry County", "Hey God", "Stranger In This Town", "Destination Anywhere" and even "Next 100 Years" was an aural rollercoaster that took me to parts of my soul I didn't know existed. Bon Jovi strove to be an act that mattered and provided an ethereal experience for its fans. Now days, I feel like they strive to be part of the pop landscape instead of the rock one. Rock N' Roll is about defying expectations, pushing boundaries and sending chills down your spine. The banal lyrics, performance and production borders on pedestrian and makes me feel like the band has more in common with pop stars (Jason Mraz, Rob Thomas, Kelly Clarkson) than their rock counterparts (U2 & Metallica) which is perfectly fine…but they can't complain with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame comes out with a padlock so large it will forever remain locked and no amount of picking will ever open it. "We Weren't Born To Follow" isn't the type of song that is strong enough to be considered among the band's best and it won't force anyone who isn't a fan to stand up and take notice.
Bon Jovi has always been a guitar band and it appears that on recent albums Sambora's signature licks are relegated to the side. Why, because it's a radio trend at this moment in time? Music should be timeless striving to be hip to that moment in time. Whenever one sits down and attempts to write a universal anthem they most often fail. One has to remember that "Livin' On A Prayer" and "It's My Life" were initially not deemed worthy of release. I have a feeling the band wants to remain relevant and on top of the commercial heap and they are trying to figure out what will attract the largest audience. What they don't seem to understand is that if they followed their own muse and if it's truly great, the audience will seek them out, instead of the band trying to the point of force-feeding it down everyone's throats. With the album ten weeks away, I have a feeling I will never want to hear this song again by November 10th (the album's release date).
The business aspect of music has evolved centuries in the last decade and it feels as if Bon Jovi is playing the same game as if it were 1988. Terrestrial radio means nothing these days and more often than not captures people who are very casual fans of music. I have nothing wrong with anyone creating a song for the masses, but it has to be truthful, honest and from the heart. At this moment in time, I'm just not feeling it. It feels manipulative. Have you ever gone out to breakfast with a sweet tooth and ordered chocolate chip pancakes? When the plate arrives, you dive in, devour what you can, but about half way through you begin to feel full and dosed with far too much sugar. You don't finish them and at the end you vow to never order them again because they're just too darn sweet. That's what "We Weren't Born To Follow" feels like. It has a welcoming chorus with universal themes that won't make you turn the dial, but it is too safe to be revealing in the future. The song has been out only a week and I reserve the right to change my mind, but I can't see that happening at this moment in time. No band provides me with a more emotional release than Bon Jovi and they are largely responsible for my love of music in general, but I want my artists to challenge me and it's not happening with Bon Jovi over the last few records and from what I have heard from The Circle, I have doubts they ever will again.
I love pop music. It makes you feel good and gives you a brief high (much like chocolate chip pancakes), but what happens when that high wears off? There is a reason that the catalogs of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Guns N' Roses continue to sell by the millions every year because even decades after they were released, people are discovering the intricate beauty of their music because these were acts who forged their own sound, didn't play by the rules and defiled the status quo. The irony of "We Weren't Born To Follow" is that the band appears to be doing just that; playing it safe following trends instead of creating their own.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.
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Bon Jovi - We Weren't Born To Follow (single review)