Album Review: Bon Jovi – 2020

Bon Jovi 2020 album cover

What happened to Jon Bon Jovi’s voice?

It sounds like him but it doesn’t sound like him. And that’s all I could focus on while listening to Bon Jovi’s 15th studio album 2020, out today, mostly a collection of soft and adrift ballads with a few pop rockers that occasionally elevate to what made Bon Jovi a household name more than 30 years ago.

Bon Jovi doesn’t get much love these days, at least it doesn’t seem like he or the band does. His mostly hard rocking days of the 80s replaced by a softer pop sound then a dabble in country might have hurt his following and stature, but Bon Jovi deserves some credit for crossing genres and trying new things. Grab a list of bands who have celebrated 30 years or more and you likely find a change in musical style over the course of their career.

The Circle, Bon Jovi’s 11th album released in 2009, delivered a number of solid songs and remains a favorite if not one of his best. It showed maturity while keeping a hard rock core and a few special ballads, something he has honed rather well, but the follow-up albums didn’t move the needle much.

It has been four years since Bon Jovi’s last release This House is Not for Sale but since the self-titled debut in 1984, Bon Jovi has more or less routinely released albums and toured. His tour this summer that featured some outrageous ticket prices was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, clearly freeing up time to write new music.

The 10-song 48 minute 2020 I thought might indicate a new Bon Jovi, a different musical direction, perhaps more in line with 2007’s Lost Highway which embraced country music but by the second song you realize 2020 is about 2020. But 2020 was delayed until now from a May release date and two songs were replaced on the original release with two tracks Bon Jovi wrote and recorded during the mass quarantine, both of which make sense in terms of reflecting on 2020 but without them, the 2020 album name makes little sense.  All this to ask, was 2020 the original title or was that changed too?

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Bon Jovi 2020 Album Review

“Limitless” begins 2020 on a high note with a great melody and solid beat reflecting a Bon Jovi mid-career rock track. “Do What You Can” confronts the coronavirus lockdown with country rock flair. The song was also released separately as a duet with country singer Jennifer Nettles and no doubt will do well on the charts over there.

The Springsteen like “American Reckoning” offers a somber tone with cliché lyrics, Bon Jovi slurs through at times, addressing the social unrest in America this summer. Basically what you get when artists try too hard to make some sort of statement or world impact so they can pat themselves on the back. “Beautiful Drug” sounds familiar, like it’s been done before. Has a pretty cool guitar solo and keeps a solid pace but nothing memorable. “Story of Love” is nearly six minutes of mush. Bon Jovi the singer, and an acoustic guitar. Once he started lullabying, it was over.

“Let it Rain” opens the second half with a bit more rock but John Parr might have a case here. Another ballad attempt in “Lower the Flag” a song Bon Jovi wrote in response to the Dayton, OH shooting in 2019 but a track with little musical gravity. Just a slow harmony and acoustic strum for the most part. If you didn’t think it could get slower and more melodramatic then stick with “Blood in the Water” but resisting the skip button during the first 20 seconds might prove futile. It does get better – the chorus more expressive and a decent guitar solo, albeit pretty short, just past the halfway point – but mostly a slow grind to the end.

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Whew, finally “Brothers in Arms” reaches back for some rock, hardly a “You Give Love a Bad Name” or even a hit single but something with an upbeat melody even if it sounds like a B-side. Finally 2020 ends with “Unbroken” a nod to our military and veterans which was written for the 2019 movie To Be of Service. A nice attempt at an anthem of sorts but at six minutes plus and a mostly melody free pace, save for the intermittent guitar wail, you’ll have a hard time saluting this one much less hitting repeat.

So what happened to Jon Bon Jovi’s voice? Not sure. Perhaps age, he’s 58 now. Maybe a purposeful  deeper, twangy tone bordering on drawl so you take notice. Because lyrically, 2020 manages to regurgitate every political hot button of the last five years or so with intent and purpose by piping up the vocals – gotta make sure you hear them – and cutting back on substance and style musically to force you into a worship service at the Church of Bon Jovi.

Thanks anyway, but I’ll get my moral compass from someone other than a rock star who released the album Slippery When Wet.

Have a nice day.

Grade: C

Bon Jovi 2020 Track List:

  1. Limitless
  2. Do What You Can
  3. American Reckoning
  4. Beautiful Drug
  5. Story of Love
  6. Let It Rain
  7. Lower the Flag
  8. Blood in the Water
  9. Brothers In Arms
  10. Unbroken