Bon Jovi – This House Is Not for Sale
Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) and New Jersey (1988) were pivotal cassettes for those of us raised on MTV and their longevity isn’t surprising to anyone who was paying attention back then. Less dangerous than Mötley Crüe and unafraid of a pop hook (or three), Bon Jovi’s sound made for one of the easiest transitions into the 1990’s and beyond. Thirty years after “Livin’ On a Prayer” dominated the airwaves, Bon Jovi return with a little anger, a lot of shiny production tricks and not much to say on This House Is Not For Sale.
At the start of the century, the band partnered with producer John Shanks and launched the second phase of their career with the smash “It’s My Life” on Crush. Sixteen years later, Shanks is back at the controls and the band sounds like they’re chasing the same hit single. Check out the earth-shaking floor tom break before the final chorus of “Knockout” and you’ll hear the intro of “It’s My Life.” At this point in their career, Bon Jovi sound content with the sound they found in 2000 and are hesitant to take any musical chances. The result is a well-polished pop-rock formula with a few hints of modern country to keep their aging fans who’ve gravitated towards Tim McGraw and Keith Urban over the years interested.
Noticeably absent from this album is Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi’s songwriting partner through the band’s best (and worst) times. While you could argue that Phil X adequately fills his shoes, Sambora added a little bluesy edge to even the band’s most bland pop material and his guitar would be a welcome addition to almost every track. On “Labor Of Love”, the guitar tone replicates Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” so closely that it’s a nagging distraction. Sambora would have certainly added a different texture to it.
More troublesome than the unremarkable but solid music on This House Is Not for Sale are Jon Bon Jovi’s lyrics. For someone who declared they had a chip on their shoulder when writing this album (towards Sambora, his old record label and the NFL, I presume), the writing lacks any substantial depth. On “Born Again Tomorrow,” Jovi reminds us that “you learn from your mistakes” and “you gotta be strong.” It’s this sort of trite, bumper sticker fodder that comprises most of the album. “New Year’s Day” lifts a title from U2 and then drops Leonard Cohen and The Police song titles into the lyrics. Line after line unfolds with simple rhymes that could fit into almost any pop song.
Maybe hoping for the band to take chances at this point in their career is selfish. They have a formula that fills arenas in 2016 and the songs will sound great while you’re waiting for your kid to finish soccer practice. There is no bad medicine left in the Bon Jovi well and the days of running wild in the streets have passed them by. Sounding more like the Bryan Adams of 1988 than their own early material, Bon Jovi is still delivering music for their fans and for that alone I bequeath it 2 stars.