It would be hard to find a more loaded release than rock superstars Bon Jovi’s latest offering. Not only is Burning Bridges unlucky number thirteen out of the band’s studio albums, but also their first without guitarist and co-founder Richie Sambora. And perhaps most importantly, the aptly titled Burning Bridges marks the end of Bon Jovi’s thirty two year stint with Mercury Records.
And clearly that split has left a somewhat bitter taste; dismissing the release as a “fan album” to fulfil their contractual obligation, Burning Bridges is a mere ten tracks which signs off with a tongue-in-cheek break up song, penned by Bon Jovi and aimed at Mercury.
Even without that context, Burning Bridges feels like a weaker moment in the legendary Bon Jovi catalogue. Opening with a lacklustre vocal call in A Teardrop To The Sea, there is a tiredness that stretches across the songs. Which is perhaps understandable for the final effort under a continually shifting leadership at Mercury. Sticking on solid ground, the album is filled with big rock anthems like We Don’t Run and emotive ballads Blind Love and Fingerprints, which opens with finger-picked guitar reminiscent of the classic Wanted Dead Or Alive.
As the genre of choice for divorce songs, it’s perhaps fitting that a country influence runs throughout Burning Bridges. Particularly evident in the unconvincing Life Is Beautiful, this one is nearly “rock by numbers”, even the pace feels hurried – like Bon Jovi wanted to just get this one done and dusted. Which may well be true given that the band seems more focused on their next album, due next year, describing the planned release as something the band can be proud of.
Final farewell track Burning Bridges is a full on country sing along, with some serious underlying ire. It may sound lighthearted, but scathing lyrics like “Now maybe you could learn to sing / Or even strum along / I’ll give you half the publishing / You’re why I wrote this song” dish out acidic commentary on corporations cashing in on musicians and their artistry.
Everything is relative, and even though Bon Jovi have earned huge sums and massive acclaim during their time with Mercury, that doesn’t mean they have no right to complaint. And after such a damaging concatenation, it would admittedly be hard not to let a sense of deflation creep in. But to dismiss Burning Bridges as a “fan album” is a disappointing move from Bon Jovi. Do loyal fans deserve to be treated to this kind of public hand washing, or to have a dedicated “contractual obligation” in place of a labour of love, from their rock icons?