A new Bon Jovi release used be like Christmas for me. I became a fan when a Swedish radio station played their first (hit) single “Runaway” just when their self titled debut album was about to be released in 1984. It knocked me out completely and I bought that album the day it was released and to this day I find their first five albums – Bon Jovi (1984), 7800 Fahrenheit (1985), Slippery When Wet (1986), New Jersey (1988) and Keep The Faith (1992) – amazingly good. Things started to slip with their 1995 album These Days, by no means a bad album, but it was only 60% great, leaving the rest of the 40% jumping between crap to mediocre. After that album, Bon Jovi has never really been themselves again. Crush (2000) only had three great tracks, Bounce (2002) had even less and Have A Nice Day (2005) didn’t have one single stand-out track. But the big crash landing happened with the horrendous wanna-be country piece of junk album called Lost Highway (2007). On their earlier few records there were at least some traces of the band I had loved so dearly, but on that album every little trace of the classic Bon Jovi sound had been forlorn. That record is one of the worst cases of a great band going down the sewer I have ever heard in my life. After that, things didn’t get better, they only got less worse. The Circle (2009) was Bon Jovi trying to find some rock again, but they failed miserably. It was the same mainstream boring pop songs with the guitars a bit louder in the mix, nothing else. And Jon Bon Jovi’s words about the band having made a big arena rock album again with 2013’s What About Now were either lies or a bad case of disillusion.
Then guitarist and JBJ’s partner in crime since the debut, Richie Sambora had enough and left and for me, that was the last nail in the coffin. The band – if you can still call it a band – then released an album of leftovers, Burning Bridges (2015), that much to my surprise contained a couple of pretty good songs, something that hadn’t happened in almost 15 years. After all this harsh criticism, why even bother reviewing – or even checking out – the album, one might ask? Well, even though I have said to myself that all hope is gone after every Bon Jovi release that last fifteen years, there’s a tiny ray of hope left in me, I so desperately want Bon Jovi to rock out again, to prove me wrong, to show all of us who has criticized the band lately that they still have it in them. Because I do think that, somewhere deep within JBJ, there’s a rocker screaming to get out and maybe, just maybe, this time that rocker has come out to kick my ass.
But it only took one listen to the first single, opening track and the album’s title track for that hope to take a major leap right out the window. Sure, it’s a catchy little pop song that will run up the charts and it is more guitar laden than usual, but it’s the same boring, mainstream, watered pop song with no dynamics or punch that says nothing or does nothing. “Living With The Ghost” is also a catchy pop song and not completely useless. It’s a bit dark which keeps some of the middle-of-the-road vibe at bay, but when the song rings out, it’s just another in one ear, out the other song. The guys go out on a slightly more modern path with “Knockout”, a song that is probably supposed to be a real rocker, but if that is what they’re aiming at, they have failed because it’s only bland and it’s certainly not a knockout at all. The darker vibes comes back in the ballad “Labor Of Love”, but it’s a ballad completely without any power and nothing happens, nothing at all. It’s duller than dull and completely redundant. It’s also reminiscent of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” which doesn’t help.”Born Again Tomorrow” is another uptempo pop song with an arrangement similar to the other uptempo pop songs I have heard so far, but at least this one has a chorus that sticks. It’s a decent tune, but I wouldn’t say I dig it much.”Rollercoaster” is a banal pop song that sports a U2 meets Simple Minds vibe in the verses, but it only sounds like a lukewarm and harmless and if they thought it would bring the song some seriousness they’re dead wrong.
They bring back the faster pace with “New Year’s Day” but unfortunately the song is a big waste of time and is so dull it’s giving me a rash. Come on, already! “The Devil’s In The Temple” finally gives me something to smile about. It’s the album’s stand-out track, a good song and the closest thing to a rocker so far. The chorus is really good and the dark and heavy rhythm brings some hope and shows that ole Jon still can write a good rocker if he puts his mind to it. “Scars On this Guitar” has a dark atmosphere and lyrically it brings “My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms” (These Days) to mind, but where that song is pure brilliance, this acoustic ballad is the opposite – it’s more fun watching your nails grow than to listen to it! They try to rock things up with “God Bless This Mess” (the way this album has gone so far, this should be the title of the album…), but it’s still just a mainstream pop song. But the chorus here is at least catchy enough and it actually got stuck in my head for a while – a decent song. Next song is called “Reunion” and man do I wish for Bon Jovi one. What I don’t wish for is to listen to this song again because even though it’s pretty catchy with single potential, it’s only brittle and thin and goes nowhere. The closing track “Come Up To Our House” is an uptempo ballad with a bit of a groove, not bad but quite forgettable and perfunctory – not very much to write home about, I’m afraid.
There are a few different deluxe editions out with bonus tracks, if you want to put your green on any of those. “Real Love” is a syrupy piano ballad that brings a somewhat dark mood to the table which actually saves the song. I’m surprised that I don’t hate the song but I don’t really love it either. Another tune is called “All Hail To The King”. I say no hail to that song. It runs with the same dull arrangement like so many of Bon Jovi’s songs in later years has. A re-make of “We Don’t Run” is also included and it stands very clear how superior this song is to the others – easily Bon Jovi’s best tune in years without it being anywhere close to the classic Bon Jovi sound. It actually sounds more like Takida than Bon Jovi. And with the slow ballad “I Will Drive You Home” we’re back to the crap. It’s about as exciting as a rabbit turd. “Goodnight New York” is a pop song with a bit of a groove. It’s not worthless but it leaves me completely indifferent. “Touch Of Grey” is – you guessed it – a pop song. It’s based on acoustic guitar but completely without any depth or strength – it’s only lame.
This album blows! And just like Bon Jovi for the last 15 years, it doesn’t have one iota in common with the classic band. This is a JBJ solo album – again – where the rest of the members has been demoted down back-up musicians. No wonder Sambora took off! But if you’re a fan of their four or so previous records, you will love this one as well. Is Richie Sambora missed, then? Well, no, actually. Why? Well, apart from the odd guitar solo here and there and some backing vocals, Sambora could have left the band years ago because he hasn’t contributed much sound wise to the last few records either. But with Sambora gone so is the last hope of a new rock album from Bon Jovi which is really sad. New guitarist Phil X is probably good but it’s impossible to hear on this album and also, most of the guitars here were played by JBJ’s co-writer and producer John Shanks, a guy who is part of Bon Jovi’s problem. The guy is obviously talented, just like the guys in Bon Jovi are, but he’s totally wrong for this band. It was when he took place as JBJ’s partner that things started to crumble. I give up, Bon Jovi are beyond all rescue. The only thing that could save this band from the abject squalor they have been in for so long is if Jon, Dave and Tico decides to reunite with Richie (and Alec John Such!) and gets back into the basement and acts like a rock band again. Their house is not for sale and quite frankly, this album shouldn’t be either. RIP Bon Jovi!
Other Bon Jovi reviews:
1. This House Is Not for Sale
2. Living With The Ghost
4. Labor Of Love
5. Born Again Tomorrow
7. New Year’s Day
8. The Devil’s In The Temple
9. Scars On This Guitar
10. God Bless This Mess
12. Come On Up To Our House
13. Real Love (bonus track)
14. All Hail The King (bonus track)
15. We Don’t Run (bonus track)
16. I Will Drive You Home (bonus track)
17. Goodnight New York (bonus track)
18. Touch Of Grey (bonus track)