Bon Jovi unveils new album in full at N.J. concert; a track-by-track analysis
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RED BANK — “If you think I’m going to keep rewriting “You Give Love a Bad Name,” sorry, folks,” a fully gray Jon Bon Jovi said. “That book’s gone.”
Yes, Bon Jovi’s hair metal heyday has long faded, as has the band’s prolific right-hand shredder Richie Sambora, who split for good in 2014. Also erased, so Bon Jovi says, is the ongoing dispute with 32-year record label partner Mercury Records (now known as Island Records in the U.S.), which kept the band in limbo for the last three years.
“After 30 years of loyalty / they let you dig the grave” Bon Jovi wrote for the acrid 2015 single “We Don’t Run,” a song that appears on the band’s equally forceful upcoming LP “This House Is Not For Sale.”
“It’s a record about integrity, about rebirth, about life, love, loss and all the sweat that goes between,” Bon Jovi told a packed house inside Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre Saturday night. “We have a lot to say and not a f—ing thing to prove.”
The band, now a touring seven-piece with producer John Shanks on guitar and percussionist Everett Bradley, played the new album, set to drop Oct. 21, in its entirety for the first time anywhere this night, the opening gig of a mini-tour to promote the album.
Since nearly every song performed Saturday was brand new to everyone, including the patient crowd and our readers here, we did our best to break down each track, and provide a frame of reference for the new album — 30 years removed from the titanic success of “Slippery When Wet.”
NOTE: Live photos from Saturday’s show were not immediately available and will be added to this post Sunday afternoon.
“This House is not for Sale” — “The House” described in this arena-ready single is the band itself, Bon Jovi said, and the whole “not for sale” aspect seems to be an extra punch toward the label, as well as a beat toward the future, which the singer assured “is bright.”
The song itself is anthemic enough, but as the opener to the first showcase of all these new songs in public, Bon Jovi himself seemed a little uneasy, frozen at the mic and feeling his way through. But the big, full-band build to a lively solo from now-full-time shredder Phil X thrilled the crowd.
Either way, “House” is a much stronger, more fulfilling lead single than 2013’s uninspired “Because We Can.”
“Living with a Ghost” — Another straightaway rock banger with a sweeping guitar melody. Bon Jovi explained the song’s vivid bridge, of a man bathing in holy water and cryptically saying “I’m over my head,” came directly from a dream. Overall, the song tackles the “open seas” of life’s new chapters, and where to go next. The pounding performance — thanks Tico Torres — ended with that winning, movie-star smile Jonny has always been quick to reveal.
“Knockout” — This one, the album’s eventual second single, felt fairly old-school, something about “feeling like your 18-year-old self,” the 54-year-old singer said. The lyrics are loaded with cliches — “I wake up with my back against the wall” or “if you’re afraid to lose it all / you’re never gonna win” — and for some inexplicable reason, this punchy jam made me miss Sambora. Anyway, meh.
“Labor of Love” — The album’s first ballad, which touches on what it takes to make love work, is “Tunnel of Love” Springsteen-esque in composition and quite good on the album itself, but the nuance’s in Bon Jovi’s delivery were lost in the live setting. The crowd glazed over as the band trotted through.
“Born Again Tomorrow” — This is the “we need to sound like 2016” song, with guitar effects mirroring Coldplay’s most recent works and a composition that could, with a little remixing, be molded into a dance track. The lyric’s basis, Bon Jovi said, was to not be a “shoulda, coulda, woulda guy” and explore your life, “even if you hit a brick wall.” Dramatic lighting blinded the crowd, and Phil X turned in one of the night’s better, squealing solos.
“Rollercoaster” — This may be the best uptempo jam on the album, and should absolutely be a single — swap out “Knockout,” there’s still time! The chorus, detailing love’s ups and downs, really moves and the dynamics of the track just seemed to eclipse most everything else the group played this night.
“New Year’s Day” — Bon Jovi’s story for this one started with praise for David Bryan’s Tony-winning play “Memphis,” and ended with Bryan and Torres reworking Bon Jovi’s framework for the tune in question, and how this song made “House” a “band record,” and not something he solely conjured himself. Oh, and the song is about rebirth. Scatterbrain.
Anyway, the chugging rhythm section guides along the decent tune.
“The Devils in the Temple” — Here’s the much more explicit “screw you” to record label. Sugarcoating, Bon Jovi mentioned that “the business of music got in the way” but they later “kissed and made up, and it all worked out.” The song itself is more an antagonistic thrust, with Bon Jovi singing, under red lights, “There’s thieves at the altar / a snake wears the crown.”
“Scars on this Guitar” — Lyrically, this is Bon Jovi’s best work in a while, an ode to a lover — presumably wife Dorothea — who sticks around through thick and thin. It’s not that the ballad is so poetic, it just feels like more real, from the heart, and not written solely to blare from MetLife Stadium speakers.
“God Bless this Mess” — The melody here is too similar to the “House” title track, and the message is simple: “33 years, and we are happier than we’ve ever been,” Bon Jovi said about the band. Care to comment, Richie?
“Reunion” — This song was written for, of all people, grad students. Bon Jovi was asked to speak at the Rutgers-Camden graduation in 2015, and came up with this self-described “write your own path,” folksy tune to play for the ceremony. Was this easier than penning a plain ol’ speech?
“Come on up to our House” — The word “house” is purposefully used twice, Bon Jovi said, as he felt this bookend track was a cordial culmination of what he and the band had gone through over the last three years. The members helped Jon through “personal fear and disappointment,” he said, and now they are closer than ever, and want everyone to come on up. “I wasn’t writing I, I was writing we,” he added.
“Real Love” — Kudos to Bryan on the bounding, tonally beautiful piano melody for this tune, written in Nashville with longtime Bon Jovi collaborator Billy Falcon, and in the same vein as “Bed of Roses.” A decent ballad.
“All Hail the King” — This one stemmed from the generous spirit of those involved in Red Bank’s Bon Jovi-owned Soul Kitchen, and elsewhere. But the song is largely a cliche-laden throwaway.
“We Don’t Run” — Stolen from 2015’s fan album/record label demand “Burning Bridges,” another big rock chorus ready for a stage much larger than Count Basie’s, and another pouting track aimed at corporate.
Bobby Olivier may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyOlivier. Find NJ.com on Facebook.