There comes a time in every rock star's life, after he has sold 100 million records, traveled the world by private jet and starred in a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, when his thoughts turn to his artistic legacy. Or in Jon Bon Jovi's case, how he'd better get one.
"Have a Nice Day" is just different enough to suggest that Bon Jovi would like to be seen, if not as a serious artist, then not as a not-serious one. It's a tricky proposition, but not impossible: The ultimate survivor, Bon Jovi rode out the '80s pop-metal contagion by never being too '80s pop-metal anyway (for proof, listen to a Poison album sometime); he endured grunge in an undisclosed location, and he has spent the first half of the '00s deciding what he wants his band to be.
"Have a Nice Day" is part traditional Bon Jovi album, part transitional piece. It's an awkward but endearing combination of sops to the fans and baby steps toward artistic seriousness. Mostly it follows every rule in the Playbook for Artistic Reinvention (Male Rock Star Division) handed down by elders like John Mellencamp and, more recently, Paul McCartney.
As expected, there are some smart moves forward. And some rookie mistakes:
* Rule 1: Wax poetic. Except for the occasional string part (the first refuge of the credibility-seeking artist), "Day" sounds like a regular Bon Jovi album -- most of its advances are lyrical. There are two homages to Bob Dylan, one track indirectly about John Kerry and a lot more cranky cogitating about the meaning of life than found even on the band's last album, the 9/11-centric "Bounce." Old-time fans might prefer their Bon Jovi without a side helping of philosophy, but he deserves credit for trying, even if many of his more earnest tracks borrow closely from his betters: "Who Says You Can't Go Home" cops its grim imagery from Bruce Springsteen circa "Lucky Town" -- arguably not the era from which to steal.
* Rule 2: Grouse about "crazy" new musical trends (See: Billy Joel, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me"). According to "Last Man Standing," Bon Jovi doesn't like pseudo-punk or pop-rock junk. And downloading? Don't ask.
* Rule No. 3: Include several songs that sound exactly like your old hits. The title track is intended as a rousing, saucy declaration of Jovian independence in the great (yes, great) tradition of "It's My Life," but it's such a thinly done retread he might as well be holding up a sign saying "I Have No Ideas Left."
* Rule 4: Enlist a superstar producer who's popular with "the kids." In this case, John Shanks (Ashlee Simpson, et al). Think of him as Nigel Godrich for people from New Jersey. To be held only partly responsible for No. 3.
* Rule 5: Include a duet with someone from a different genre. When Mellencamp (the master of incremental, non-embarrassing reinvention) did a left-field duet with Meshell Ndegeocello, it was his biggest hit in years, introducing him to a new pop audience that tolerates him to this day. "Who Says You Can't Go Home," Bon Jovi's duet with Jennifer Nettles of the country outfit Sugarland, probably won't do the same, but it's an appealing song anyway. Die-hards take note: "Day" also includes a Nettles-free, less countrified version of the track. Just in case.
Bon Jovi is scheduled to appear Dec. 17 at MCI Center.