Who says you can’t go home try to catch lightning in a bottle twice?
Back in 2006, Bon Jovi teamed up with Sugarland lead Jennifer Nettles on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” riding the ode to the top of the country charts. A lot has happened since then: Sugarland rose and fell, Bon Jovi mostly fell, and the country is now facing its second massive economic recession and first global pandemic since that single left the charts. Said pandemic appears to be weighing on Jon Bon Jovi’s mind right now, because he and his band have teamed up with Nettles once again to release “Do What You Can,” a song that aims to…to…honestly, I’m not sure what this song is supposed to do. The song feels like a messy braindump: It’s part protest, part call to action, part optimistic rocker, and even part Cobronavirus ripoff. There’s enough good stuff here to make it a worthwhile listen, but it muddles its message unnecessarily with such scattershot construction.
The production on this track is a real head-scratcher, because it doesn’t seem to fit the song at all. The foundation of the arrangement is a standard rock mix with prominent electric guitars and kind-of-hard-hitting real drums, but with a token banjo and some fiddle (!) thrown in to make the song “country” (given that the non-duet version of the same uses the exact same mix minus those instruments, the move feels a bit too calculated and cynical for my taste). The real issue, however, is the tempo: This thing runs at a blazing 172 bpm (it’s actually faster than “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”!), and while this meshes well with the brighter instrument tones to create an hopeful, optimistic atmosphere, it feels more than a little disconnected from the more-serious lyrics, and ends up making it feel more like a generic party song than a plea to “do what you can” to help combat the coronavirus. (The exception to this is the piano section after the bridge, which fits the moment much better than the song’s otherwise-frenetic pace.) I get that this song is not meant to be a downer, but swinging so far in the upbeat direction ends up getting in the way of what the song is trying to say, and it’s a weaker song as a result.
Both Nettles and Bon Jovi get top billing on this track rather then the dreaded “feature,” and it makes sense given that both artists split the lyrics equally. What interesting is how the roles of the two singers seem to have reversed from “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”: The 2006 song found Bon Jovi well within his wheelhouse and Nettles working around him in a slightly-awkward fashion, but this time Nettles is the stronger-sounding of the two, while Bon Jovi is trapped is a range that’s a shade too low for him and sounds much weaker and more raspy than before. (He sounds better when he’s allowed to climb into his upper register, but you can’t shake the sense that he’s lost something off of his fastball in the last fourteen years.) Thankfully, the pair still has a decent amount of vocal chemistry, and both demonstrate enough charisma to get the seriousness of the situation across (although Nettles’s take on the Arkansas chicken farm story feels a bit too neutral and stoic for a tale that includes 500 deaths). It’s still a decent performance overall, but one that would have been stronger if the pair had been given a consistent message to pitch.
So what happened to said message? This is where the lyrical weaknesses rear their head: The song ostensibly wants to push people who feel inconvenienced by the whole “stay home to stop the virus” push to find a way to make things better in a less fortunate position (“when you can’t do what you do, you do what you can”). This message, however, only kinda-sorta gets through: There are moments when the narrators marvel at the things that we’ve done to combat the virus (quickly build temporary hospitals, bring naval hospital ships into New York for assistance, visiting folks through a closed window because they “may be saving someone’s life”) and touch upon those who are forced to make tough decisions because they can’t afford to do otherwise (“I got a hundred point one fever
and we still got bills to pay”). At other times, however, the narrator seems to lose their train of thought: They stop to rant about how “it ain’t fair to Skype the prom” and how kids are stuck inside watching “TV news” all the time, and their aim in referencing an Arkansas chicken farm is unclear: Are they happy that the farm “Bought workers PPE,” or are they mad because it didn’t do it “before 500 more [workers] had succumbed to this disease”? (The closing “we need more love” message is a bit generic, but in fairness it’s the same conclusion that every song in this lane advocates.) There’s also a noticeable omission here: “Wear a freaking mask” would be about the simplest thing you could do to help fight the virus, but the song stays far away from this political football to avoid potential controversy. All in all, the whole thing feels a bit unfocused, and as a result the primary message is lost in the noise, leaving the audience mostly confused as to what to take away from it all.
In the end, “Do What You Can” fails to take its own advice: Instead of narrowing its scope and focusing on its core ideas, it tries to do everything and be everything to all people, and winds up being mostly nothing as a result. The production screams “rockin’ good time,” Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles say “no, we have a real point to make,” and the lyrics just proclaim “We must say ALL THE WORDS!” There’s more good than bad here overall, but it’s a song that hard to remember simply because it’s hard to figure out what it wants you to remember. Still, if it succeeds in taking some spins away from a Cobronavirus track, I’ll take it.
Rating: 6/10. For all they did, I wish they had done more.
One thought on “Song Review: Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles, “Do What You Can””
Agree with PC that Jennifer has one of the best voices in country in the last decade and her personality is so likeable. I ve enjoyed all her albums except Incredible Machine . Still love the bon jovi duet. Most frequently played Nettles song in my i-tunes library is Me Without You followed by Very Last Country Song . I haven t gotten around to checking out the new album yet not impressed with either of the first 2 singles.
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