By Kyle Elphick
Like diners or going down the shore, Bon Jovi has been a New Jersey staple. The band’s big power chords and even bigger hair have left a lasting impact on our collective culture.
The glam quintet returned on Friday, Nov. 4, for the band’s 13th and latest record, “This House Is Not For Sale” — a release that’s anything but standard. The album was born out of the most tumultuous period in the band’s 30-year history, and for better or for worse, it shows.
The shakeup began three years ago when Bon Jovi put out “What About Now,” an album that sold well, however, was widely criticized for predictability. The reviews were not without justification, though, since it’s difficult for a non-diehard fan to name a single track from it.
The band mounted a stadium tour in support of the record, but mysteriously, the band’s iconic lead guitarist, Richie Sambora, soon stopped playing at live shows. Rumors — that soon turned out to be true — swirled that Sambora had quit the band. He was replaced with guitarist Phil X and a new Bon Jovi was born.
With “This House Is Not For Sale,” Bon Jovi makes a case for its integrity and staying power. The work’s title invokes a band that isn’t afraid to stay true to itself in the face of haters. The album artwork, a sturdy old house with roots thrust deep into the dirt, almost seems like a brag — as if the band is saying, “Drag us all you want, we’ll keep selling out stadiums and recording chart-topping records.”
Some of the work’s songs stay true to this thesis. Take the album’s title track and lead single. It’s a classic Bon Jovi cut, reminiscent of “My Life” or “Living on a Prayer” with heavy yet flamboyant guitar riffs to rapturously rip your face off, while the drum kit booms like it’s coming out of rock concert speakers.
Lyrics such as, “Where memories live and the dream don’t fail,” echo the band’s consistent themes of hope and fighting for the good. There’s no doubt that fans will pump their fists defiantly to the sky while belting the song’s sexy earworm of a chorus at stadium shows this summer.
Without the grounding of Sambora’s guitar, however, “This House” features instances of a never-before-heard Bon Jovi. The band fuses different genres and takes unconventional inspiration in many of the album’s dozen tracks, which works with varying degrees of success.
“Knockout” isn’t an average Bon Jovi track. Its founded on the pulsing pings of an electric synth. Its brimming with background vocals reminiscent of an arena sing-along, and technique employed widely in radio pop. Its chorus is dancy, and if recorded by a different artist, it might be the background noise in a nightclub.
Far from a disaster, but something about the song just doesn’t feel right. Bon Jovi has a tried-and-true style that the world has come to expect. It would take a killer track to successfully break the band’s mold, and this just isn’t it.
The band runs a more successful experiment with “Labor of Love.” The song morphs spacy U2-esque chords with the blue-collar lyrical passion of Bruce Springsteen. It’s the longest track on the album, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. As Jon sings, “I know where this is going when I look into your eyes,” it’s impossible not to think of the Jersey girl that’s been the subject of your dreams and nightmares.
Admirably, “This House is Not For Sale” showcases a Bon Jovi refusing to phone it in, and aiming for the stars and the Billboard Hot 100. Though far from perfect, these five make a fiery gang that often prove to be a hell of a lot of fun.