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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bon Jovi: This House Is Not For Sale


1) This House Is Not For Sale; 2) Living With The Ghost; 3) Knockout; 4) Labor Of Love; 5) Born Again Tomorrow; 6) Roller Coaster; 7) New Year's Day; 8) The Devil's In The Temple; 9) Scars On This Guitar; 10) God Bless This Mess; 11) Reunion; 12) Come On Up To Our House; 13*) Real Love; 14*) All Hail The King; 15*) We Don't Run; 16*) I Will Drive You Home; 17*) Goodnight New York; 18*) Touch Of Grey.

And by "this house", I am assuming, they mean "our safe New Jersey home", because on this first proper post-Sambora album, Bon Jovi move closer to Bruce Springsteen than they ever did before — and considering how Bruce Springsteen, on his past few albums, also moved somewhat uncomfortably close to Bon Jovi, I would not be surprised to eventually hear a joint statement from the two, especially in this upcoming Trumpian universe of ours. The problem is, there is exactly one area in which Jon Bon Jovi's skills might sometimes stand up to the Boss's - the concoction of anthemic, powerful, memorable vocal hooks. Everything else, be it lyrical sophistication, or the ability to sound like a man possessed and infect the listener with a quasi-religious drive, or the massive, multi-layered, super-tight sound of the E Street Band, remains an unattainable standard of quality. So who is it that you would allow yourself to be enlightened by: a former hair metal icon who used to have the looks or a street poet who used to have a bandana? Tough choice for 2016.

Nevertheless, This House Is Not For Sale is Bon Jovi's best album since at least Crush. It's not a good record at all — there is nothing particularly fresh or unusually appealing about it — but it is smart enough to concentrate on the band's strongest aspect, the one I already mentioned. For the most part avoiding over-sentimentalized power ballads and rootsy country-rock excursions, and also, perhaps, striving to show that Bon Jovi's music was not all about Richie Sambora (who has not returned, and now Phil X is taking over his place on a permanent basis), Jon and the re­maining company write a set of tight, catchy, and, dare I say it, occasionally inspired pop-rock songs: traditional, musically conservative, and with an attempt at introspection rather than arena-rock swagger. Could be awful, but it's... tolerable. At the very least, in terms of class they are now fully comparable with contemporary U2 (not that big of a compliment, because it says more about U2's decline than Bon Jovi's ascent — still, ever imagine me putting Slippery When Wet and The Joshua Tree on the same shelf? By the way, speaking of U2, one of the songs here is called ʽNew Year's Dayʼ, and no, it is not a cover, but it does look like a tribute because the guitar parts are quite... edgy, if you know what I mean).

Most of the songs have a philosophical slant... most? Heck, all of them: even ʽLabor Of Loveʼ, the record's only patented love song, puts a poor-boy-Wagnerian slant on boy-girl relations — although leave it to Jon Bon Jovi to dig his own grave with awful lines like "if I need some sugar, I'll get it from your lips" (is it really such a long way to the local store, or does his partner suffer from sugar cravings?) and vocal modulation that places too much emphasis on his high register, by now creaky, croaky, and irritating. Apart from that song, though, it's all about coming to terms with whatever there is to come to terms with: modern times, politics, disillusionment, personal mistakes, or changing hairstyles.

The sound... well, if you happened to hear the title track, you've heard it all. The big rhythm guitar crunch is back, as is the thunderous «split-that-log-in-one-blow» drum sound of Tico Torres. New lead guitarist mostly plays short, reserved, traditional solos, possibly not wishing to compete with the departed Sambora, so the point is that you should headbang to these songs (drummer boy helps you out with this) and sing along. Like: "I'm coming ho-o-o-ome! Coming ho-o-o-o-ome!" Because you want to come home. Or: "I ain't living with the ghost! No future living in the past!" Because you... uh... don't want to come home. Or: "Here comes the knockout! My time is right now! I'm throwing down!" Because whether you want to come home or not, you gotta fight for the right to come home. Or not to come home. Or: "God bless this mess, this mess is mine!" Because your home actually looks like shit, but it's your shit, and if you can't be proud of your shit, then who can?

I don't think it would make sense to discuss any of these songs seriously: the more I do, the more cringeworthy it all becomes, so, fair moment, linger awhile and don't let me give this record a thumbs down when I actually had some fun listening to it. In fact, I will say something cringe­worthy myself: as Bon Jovi inevitably mutate into the category of «elder statesmen», Jon's output begins to show some deeply human qualities that transcend the simplicity, cheesiness, and con­servatism of the band's musical values. This here is a survivor's record, and behind the shallow catchiness, there's a glimpse of determination and power that I cannot help admiring, if only a little. I have no reason to doubt the man's sincerity, and sometimes even a simple cliché may not be so boring if it is delivered with full force. So when the man finishes the record with a formally bland gospel waltz (ʽCome On Up To Our Houseʼ — again, nothing in common with the Tom Waits song of nearly-the-same-name), I cannot not acknowledge the real emotion behind it; I do not know if "all are welcome at our table" indeed, but it does not bother me — let alone the fact that I'd never volunteer to sit at Bon Jovi's table in the first place, the real issue is why he is singing that? I'm pretty sure the man is on a good will spree this time, and that the whole record is a noble try to offer some musical consolation in a very shaky, uncertain, insecure period of our being (yes, even if the album was released several days before the presidential elections).

Anyway, if, to you, the pop and the power aspects of Bon Jovi had ever had some significance, do not be afraid to pick this one up (you can even go for the deluxe edition, which adds six extra songs, all in the same style). But if you've never cared about the band even one bit, and would rather accept ghost writing for Ann Coulter than having to hear ʽLiving On A Prayerʼ just one more time, then this house is very much for sale: there is absolutely no sense in getting it unless you are somewhat familiar with the band's history and are able to evaluate it in context.

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