I read recently that it was impossible not to like Bon Jovi. That by sticking around for so many years and still being able to sell albums the band had proven themselves. That everyone had to admire them. But whoever wrote that was lying.
Bon Jovi’s latest release, This Left Feels Right, makes you wish Jon and Richie and the rest of the boys had listened more carefully when Roger Daltry sang about dying before he got too old. The album is basically a Bon Jovi self-tribute. The band rerecorded 12 of its biggest hits and was somehow able to suck out all of the energy that made the songs any fun to begin with.
The band lays off on the electrics, instead relying on stereotypically more “mature” compositions. This means tons of acoustic guitar, organ and piano.
The first track is the album’s only moment of near redemption, as “Wanted Dead or Alive” becomes a cut-up version of the original with jarring electrical bursts, throbbing strings and an almost techno mixed-down drum track. The vocals get distorted and become more instrumental than narrative. It is also one of the few places where Jon Bon Jovi’s voice doesn’t sound like it’s been beaten down by years of touring.
The first problem with the next track, the new “Livin’ on a Prayer,” by far Bon Jovi’s best sing-along rock staple, is that Richie Sambora’s immortal voice-box guitar has been replaced by harpsichord and cheap sounding xylophone-keyboard. The rest of the song, thanks to an unneeded cameo by Olivia d’Albo, sounds like a high school metal-head singing with his girlfriend at open mic night. It is slowed down so much that it’s impossible to pump it up and sing along. It also seems like Jon Bon Jovi’s weathered voice shies away from the chorus’ high notes, dampening the track even more.
On “Lay Your Hands On Me,” where the band inexplicable tries its hand at neo-world music, the new softcore-ballad version makes weak lyrics even more apparent. When Jon Bon Jovi sings lines like, “I’ve been to school, baby I’ve been the teacher” and “Everything you want is what I need/Satisfaction guaranteed,” you really can’t help but laugh. Without the boom of eighties hair-metal flare behind them, the words sound insanely juvenile for a band of middle-aged men.
One of the group’s more recent hits, “It’s My Life” gets an excessive overhaul, transformed into soap opera background music thanks to cheesy classical guitar and patchy powerchord piano. Most of these songs just don’t work as wilting, self-reflective ballads — mainly because that wasn’t what they were originally intended to be.
The slide guitar romp of “You Give Love A Bad Name” sounds like the musicians are just goofing around, and Bon Jovi’s cracking squeal is barely listenable. The same goes for his amped-up faux-blues howl on “Bad Medicine,” another tragic casualty of Bon Jovi asserting its ‘maturity.’
The rest of the album (which includes “Bed of Roses,” “Keep The Faith” and “Always”) continues uneventfully, playing into every stereotype of bad adult contemporary music. For the band that supposedly inspired MTV to create “Unplugged,” Bon Jovi’s own attempt at a stripped down set is way more disappointing than you would think.