It’s tiring to think about 30 years of Bon Jovi.
That’s how long it’s been since their album “Slippery When Wet” brought them to the level of superstardom at which they would plateau creatively. Since then, we’ve seen the band hold steady as both a vestige from the hair rock era and your dad’s friend’s favorite band. But even in the ‘80s, Jon Bon Jovi was no Bruce Springsteen. Both artists wrote blue collar anthems, but where The Boss painted an earthy Americana portrait through grounded storytelling, Bon Jovi resigned to meaningless banalities — “Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear,” or “It’s my life / It’s now or never” — in place of any sort of musical substance. Springsteen was the stuff of life. Jovi was the stuff of bad movies. Both, as it turns out, sell remarkably well.
But after three decades of playing sold-out arenas and swimming in pools of DirecTV money, it would appear Jon Bon Jovi still hasn’t learned anything new. The music may sound different — trading the corny glam rock of the ‘80s for a more radio-friendly Daughtry-esque pop rock influence — but Jovi has done little to prove that he can write more than one song. “This House is Not for Sale” tones down the shades of nostalgia and softens what little edge the band already had.
The album opens with its title track, Jovi defiantly exclaiming that he “set each stone” and “hammered each nail” in building his relationship, and that he’s not ready to give up on it; “This house is not for sale” he sings, striking a perfect balance of simultaneous mawkishness and lifelessness. “Roller Coaster” is another standout dud, with Jovi astutely observing that “Life ain’t a merry go round / It’s a roller coaster.” It’s amazing that no one thought of that before.
“Knockout,” meanwhile, harkens back to the “classic” Bon Jovi sound, but if Long Island dads want to reminisce about their peak high school and college years, they already have a catalogue of Bon Jovi music with which to do exactly that.
It’s unclear just for whom “This House is Not for Sale” is intended. The ‘80s “Livin’ on a Prayer” camp is noticeably absent from this album, replaced with a self-seriousness that dulls every would-be anthem about love, destiny and working to achieve your dreams. Jon Bon Jovi’s lyrics deal almost exclusively in hackneyed clichés, and the instrumentals entrench themselves firmly in formula.
“This House is Not for Sale” is a bargain bin album by a bargain bin musician. It’s a cheap fortune cookie of a project: mass-produced nothingness masquerading as a beacon of wisdom and insight. A case could potentially be made that Bon Jovi operated with a modicum of self-awareness in the ‘80s — it’s difficult to imagine anyone writing “You Give Love a Bad Name” sans at least some degree of irony — but not a morsel of that higher thought is to be found on this new album. Jon Bon Jovi didn’t so much “promise me Heaven and put me through Hell” as he did promise me Newark, New Jersey and put me through Newark fucking New Jersey. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from him, isn’t it?