Bon Jovi released their long anticipated 15th studio album 2020 on Friday, October 2. Predictably, the reviews I’ve seen thus far are mixed. After some 37 years into their recording career, I think it’s safe to say at this stage the band isn’t going to change many minds one way or the other. And opinions about the Jersey rockers have clearly been divided for a long time.
While Jon Bon Jovi is no Bruce Springsteen, I’ve always liked Bon Jovi for their catchy brand of pop rock. In that regard, 2020 doesn’t break new ground. What’s different are the outspoken political lyrics of some of the songs. Eight of the 10 tracks were solely written by Jon Bon Jovi. Together with the album cover, which is the first to feature Jon Bon Jovi only since the band’s eponymous debut from January 1984, this makes it feel more like a solo record.
2020 clearly is a reflection of the current unsettling times America is going through. Why did Jon Bon Jovi turn political now? Is it all a calculated move not come across as tone-deaf during what increasingly looks like an unprecedented period in the country? I would argue that Jon Bon Jovi has supported political and social causes for a long time, so it’s not like he suddenly decided to raise issues because it looked convenient. Plus, given how divided the U.S. is, if anything, I could see him lose some fans over his turn to political lyrics. With that, let’s get to some music.
Here’s the opener Limitless, a classic Bon Jovi rocker with a memorable guitar theme and a catchy melody. Co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, the band’s touring rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist John Shanks, and Billy Falcon, a frequent Bon Jovi collaborator since 2009, the song was first released as a single in February. Unlike most other tracks on the album, while the tune addresses the uncertainties of daily life, it has an upbeat outlook in the chorus: On a night like this/One prayer one wish/step out of the edge/It’s worth the risk/Life is limitless limitless. Perhaps this makes it a more typical Bon Jovi lyric.
Things definitely get darker in American Reckoning, one of the two songs that initially weren’t part of the album. Jon Bon Jovi penned this compelling tune about police brutality against African Americans during the COVID-19 quarantine. Like the opener, it also appeared first as a single, in July. America’s on fire/There’s protests in the street/Her conscience has been looted/And her soul is under siege/Another mother’s crying as history repeats/I can’t breathe/God damn those 8 long minutes/Lying face down in cuffs on the ground/Bystanders pleaded for mercy/As one cop shoved a kid in the crowd/When did a judge and a jury/Become a badge and a knee/On these streets/stay alive, stay alive/Shine a light, stay alive/Use your voice and you remember me/American reckoning…
Lower the Flag is about senseless school shootings we all too often witness in this country. The 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio inspired Jon Bon Jovi to write this tune. Perhaps the song’s most powerful part is toward the end when he lowers his voice, switching from singing to speaking. If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out/ If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out//El Paso, Texas/Dayton, Ohio/Las Vegas, Nevada/ Sebring, Florida/Orlando, Florida/Penn State University/ Aurora, Illinois/Virginia Beach, Virginia/Gilroy, California/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/ Marjory Stoneman Douglas High/ Columbine/Columbine/Sandy Hook Elementary… One really wonders how many more shootings and deaths it will take until those in charge have the backbone to stand up against the NRA and institute sensible gun control laws.
Next up: Blood in the Water, which addresses another big issue the country is facing: the plight of immigrants…Once I came across your border/Now they come to take me back/I sleep with one eye open/I don’t make waves, I don’t leave tracks/For my daughter and my three sons/It’s the only life they’ve known/To me it’s my asylum/These stars and stripes my home…
The last tune I’d like to call out is Unbroken, the album’s closer. Yet another track solely written by Jon Bon Jovi, the song is about military veterans and their struggle with PTSD and other challenges. The song first appeared last November and was written for To Be of Service, a documentary about war veterans and their service dogs…We were taught to shoot our rifles/Men and women side by side/Thought we’d be met as liberators/In a thousand-year-old fight/I got this painful ringing in my ear/From an IED last night/But no lead-lined Humvee war machine/Could save my sergeant’s life…
2020 was co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi and John Shanks. Other musicians on the album include the current core members of Bon Jovi: Phil X (lead guitar, backing vocals), Hugh McDonald (bass), Tico Torres (drums) and David Bryan (keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Everett Bradley, a touring member like Shanks, provided percussion and backing vocals.
Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube