Full disclosure: I’m a huge Bon Jovi fan. Shocker, yes I know, but they have gotten me through some pretty tough times in my life, so I have to stick by them during their rough patches. Despite being one of the biggest and most popular rock band in the world, Bon Jovi have never really been critical darlings. Even the album that I (and the majority of Bon Jovi fans) consider to be their best, These Days, received generally mixed to negative reviews. At one time, they were the band that everyone loved to hate (sometimes called the Nickelback of the ‘80s) and they have since gone on to be considered somewhat irrelevant. I’ll be the first to admit that their last real offering, 2013’s What About Now (skipping over 2015’s Burning Bridges for a second), was less than stellar. There were only three really good tracks from the twelve on the album (“Because We Can”, “I’m With You”, and “Room At The End of the World”, though I’m in the minority of people who actually believe that “BWC” is a good song) while the rest range from completely bland and boring to dreadful pop rock drivel. That album had little influence from then guitarist, Richie Sambora, who left the band in 2013 shortly after the album’s release.
Following the news that Sambora had left the band, I originally thought that it was all over. It was depressing to think that What About Now was the last album by the band that I grew up listening to. But then Burning Bridges was announced as a “fan record” and shortly there after, This House Is Not For Sale was announced as the band’s next major release. This got me excited, yet somewhat skeptical because I was unsure how Sambora’s departure would affect the band. Burning Bridges had a few clues as to where the band was headed musically and the album’s strengths were the newly recorded songs (i.e. “We Don’t Run” and “Teardrop To The Sea”). Earlier this year I reviewed Burning Bridges in preparation for this new record. The review ended with optimism that Bon Jovi had a bright future ahead of them with this new record. This was built as Bon Jovi’s comeback album and was being compared (by Jon) to These Days and Have A Nice Day and was expected to bring Jon and the band back into the mainstream in a similar way that Crush did in 2000.
So, does the new album stand up to the hype? Yes, I think so. I don’t think that the album will generate the amount of success that Crush and “It’s My Life” did in 2000, but that doesn’t really say much. The public has lost interest in Bon Jovi. They’re no longer cool. That doesn’t have any indication on how good an album is, it is just what happens with age. Jon is 54 years old now and this shit happens. But the album itself is damn good and a return to form for the boys from New Jersey.
The album starts off with the title track and lead single, This House Is Not For Sale. The song is an antiemetic anthem in the Bon Jovi tradition. There are some guitar licks at the beginning of the track that mirror the band’s 2005 hit, Have A Nice Day and the chorus of the song is similar to “You Give Love A Bad Name”. This song is, in some ways, a throwback to classic Bon Jovi. The house that the song refers to is the band itself and Jon has been pretty insistent that the song is about the band’s integrity. He built the band from the ground up and I suspect that the song is sort of a swipe towards the record label, which has been pushing Bon Jovi to a more pop radio friendly sound in recent year. The track could have easily fit on Have A Nice Day or The Circle and feel right at home. During the live stream on Tidal last Thursday, the band preformed an extended version of the song with two guitar solos as Jon allowed Phil X to just have some fun. Jon’s vocals on the track sound good the song is certainly a highlight for the album.
The second track on the album is a mid-tempo rock song called “Living With The Ghost”. The song is clearly about the departure of long-time guitarist, Richie Sambora and Jon’s insistence of not dwelling on the loss. It is a very personal track with lines like I traded hurting for healing/I must admit that I was reeling/Now I’m feeling just fine. It is about coming out of a dark place and moving onward into the light. The best part of this song is the bridge in which Jon sings: Last night I had this dream/I saw a man wash his feet in the church holy water/He worked up to his knees/Form his arms to his neck/He said “I’m in over my head”/He was just trying to get some relief/I had this dream/That man was me. It was the most interment and personal part of the song, which is why I think that a lot of fans will really like it and be able to relate to it.
The third track on the album, “Knockout”, is one of my least favorites. While id did grow on me, I felt like the song was missing something, namely guitars. This could have been a real kickass rocker but instead turned into a more modern mainstream pop song. To make matters worse, the song doesn’t really have a guitar solo when one is definitely warranted. Phil X played lead guitar on the song (as opposed to John Shanks, who played the solo for “This House Is Not For Sale”) and I feel that his talents could have been better untallied on this song. But since this is what is considered to be a “radio friendly song”, it will probably be released as the second single despite being one of the weak spots on the album.
“Labor of Love”, the fourth track on the album, is a slow rock ballad recorded live in the studio. What stands out about this song is that Jon sings in a lower register. To compare this song to past Bon Jovi band albums and/or solo albums, I feel like this song could have fit well in either the These Days era or even Jon’s solo album, Destination Anywhere. It had that vibe coming from it. The guitars on the record sound somewhat fuzzy, which is refreshing. Bon Jovi in recent years has had a tendency to overproduce. This cut sounds live and that’s what makes it stand out.
The fifth track, “Born Again Tomorrow”, is a modern rock anthem that mixes in elements of dance pop. The live version of the song is a bit better, in my opinion, but the studio track itself is still really good. The message behind the song is: if could do it all over again, would you do everything exactly the same? In the song, Jon comes to the conclusion that he wouldn’t live life any other way. The song also is about moving forward and not looking back with lines such as You don’t have to look back to see where you are/The future’s looking brighter than a hand full of stars. The guitar solo, played by Phil X is decent enough and in true Phil X style.
One of the songs that I was looking forward to the most was “Roller Coaster”. The live version of the song sounded fantastic and I am sad to say that it isn’t as good as the studio version. With that being said, the studio version isn’t bad at all, but there seems to be something missing. Jon’s vocal track on the song sounds unfinished and there are no backing vocals to provide harmony to the big rock chorus. The song itself is a relationship song about the ups and downs in life. With lyrics like Kiss by kiss love is like a thrill ride/What goes up might take us upside down/Life ain’t a merry go ‘round the song states that life in the expected and it is best to be prepared to be unprepared because shit happens and happens randomly. Despite the song sounding like a demo, it is really one the highlights on the album.
When “New Year’s Day”, the seventh track on the album, first kicked off, I thought to my self “oh no! A song that sounds like it’s from the What About Now era!” The guitar licks at the beginning were very similar to “That’s What the Water Made Me” and I was put off by that to an extent. The song did grow on me a little bit after multiple listens, but it still feels like something that should have been on WAN but was left off for whatever reason. The song is about the rebirth of the band and the new era and while I can respect that and say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the song, I’m not a huge fan of it (and I know that I’m in the minority on this when it comes to Bon Jovi fans). But to each their own.
My favorite track on the album is “The Devil’s In The Temple” and I was extremely pleased to find out that the production didn’t screw it up. The guitars on the song are harsh and heavy. This song, to me, sounds partly like something left over from the These Days session and “Last Man Standing”. The devil that the song refers to is likely a record executive at Island records with lyrics like Look what they’ve done to this house of love/It’s too late to turn the river to blood/The savior’s come and gone and we’re all out of time/The devil’s in the temple and he ain’t no friend of mind. The song is the heaviest song Bon Jovi has recorded in years, not to mention that the lyrics are superb. My favorite lines of the song are: The devil’s in the temple and he’s making a mess/He’s got the Mona Lisa/Got his hands up her dress.
“Scars On This Guitar”, the ninth track, is practically a love song Jon wrote to his guitar. It is a competent ballad that contains some of the best songwriting Jon has written like She’s been with me late at night/When I was drowning in the dark/she heard my every word/When I was pouring out my heart. The is a ballad with a bit of a country twang to it, which I found pleasant and it is easily the best ballad on the record.
The tenth track, “God Bless This Mess”, is another rock anthem in the same vein as “This House Is Not For Sale” but it feels a little more personal. Like “Living With The Ghost”, the song is about moving from a very dark stage of life into the light with lyrics Don’t cry for me/I’m the life of the party/I’m smiling most of the time. The song takes a step back and has a real “you need to learn to laugh at yourself” vibe to it with the chorus kicking in: God bless this mess/This mess is mine/I won’t pound my chest/Or criticize/I must confess/I’ve lived. I’ve died/God bless this mess/This mess is mine. It is one of my favorites from the album and I am in the camp that thinks this song should have been the lead single rather than “This House”. Regardless, the song is certainly good enough to be a single and is radio ready.
My least favorite track on the album is the eleventh one, “Reunion”. It has a country vibe with the violins and steel guitars, which is fine, but it just doesn’t do it for me. But with that being said, it isn’t a bad song and it will probably be running through my mind as I walk across the stage in the spring to receive my degree.
The final track on the album, “Come On Up To Our House”, is the perfect closer. Built as a waltz in 6/8 time, the song is about coming together. The most notable lines from the song are: You can tell me your life story/And I’ll finish every line/The one about the hurt and heartache/It still gets me every time/Every word that you speak is the harmony/Of the song I’m singing inside and of course the chorus: Come on up to our house/Let us make you feel at home/Come on up to our house/I will leave the porch light on/All are welcome at our table/You never be alone/Come on up to our house/I will leave the porch light on. The song is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser and properly puts a cap on the whole album.
Overall, this album is exceptional. It will rival Have A Nice Day as the band’s best post 2002 album. The lyrics are meaningful and really pack a punch. The music is heavy at times and sweet at others and I think that overall, they really utilize Phil X as their new guitarist. In terms of past albums, this album is like a mix between These Days, Have A Nice Day, and Lost Highway and is certainly an improvement over their last effort What About Now.
THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE will be released on November 4, 2016. Pre-order your copy now!