Going into a new Bon Jovi album with an open mind in 2024 requires the understanding that this isn't the same band from 40 years ago. Gone are the bare-chested, libidinous glam-metal anthems of the MTV era; ever since Max Martin got his hands on the career-rejuvenating "It's My Life" at the dawn of the millennium, Bon Jovi has trafficked in slick, nostalgia-soaked adult-contemporary pop-rock. They still reach for the rafters, but they are now full of parents who are likely more concerned with memorizing their kids' soccer schedules than Aqua Netting their hair or wiggling into a pair of leather pants.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Every audience needs a hero, and Bon Jovi has always been the people's champion, keenly aware of who they serve. Their adaptability allowed them to weather the grunge storm, stay atop the charts and pack arenas well into the 2000s as many of their former peers were relegated to summer package tours. On their 16th album, Forever, Bon Jovi takes stock of their four-decade legacy, reminiscing and coming to grips with the present across 12 often catchy, predictably cheesy and unfailingly earnest songs.

The opening one-two punch of "Legendary" and "We Made It Look Easy" set the tone of Forever, for better and for worse. In the former, Jon Bon Jovi celebrates the simple pleasures of good friends and a woman who loves and supports him; in the latter, he reflects on ruling the Jersey Shore cover-band scene with his buddies in the pre-platinum days. The guitars are sterile, the lyrics are treacly and you can telegraph exactly where the band's going to drop out for Bon Jovi to utter the hook — yet despite your best efforts, these songs will lodge themselves in your brain, because that's what this band does best.

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Other tracks on Forever make successful callbacks to Bon Jovi's '80s and early-'90s glory days. "The People's House" nods to "Keep the Faith" with infectious grooves and lively piano riffs, and the talkbox-heavy "Living Proof" features one of the band's most urgent choruses in years (even though Phil X's pedestrian guitar leads are a far cry from Richie Sambora's vivacious solos). Not all of these backward glances pay off: "My First Guitar" is the latest in a long lineage of melodramatic songs dedicated to Bon Jovi's steel horse, and this one sounds better in theory than in practice. The sappy "Kiss the Bride" is a readymade wedding dance staple that will have fathers blubbering, while those outside the demographic may just check their phones impatiently.

The elephant on Forever is Jon Bon Jovi's well-documented vocal issues, which took center stage in the band's 2024 four-part Hulu docuseries Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story. The singer underwent intense vocal cord reconstructive surgery in 2022, casting doubt on his touring future. His voice sounds naturally weathered here — his vibrato is wobbly and there are a few giveaways of pitch correction — but overall, he sounds confident and determined, reaching some impressive high notes on "Waves." The vocal fireworks of "Livin' on a Prayer" or "In These Arms" are long gone, but that's OK. As Bon Jovi reflects on contemplative album closer "Hollow Man," he's conquered every summit over the past 40 years. Whether or not he returns to peak form, what matters now is that he refuses to go down without a fight.

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Gallery Credit: Anthony Kuzminski

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