Bon Jovi 2020 album cover

Album Review: Bon Jovi – 2020

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 Songs:

  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

19 thoughts on “Album Review: Bon Jovi – 2020

  1. Buyer Beware!
    These Days was the last Jovi album I bought studio that is and even that album he was shifting gears and when was that one,1995?
    I give him credit for still getting out there and doing it but to me it sounds like a Vegas Lounge Act.
    Thanks for taking one for the team here Andrew!
    Safe to say you streamed this but didn’t buy it? Correct.

      1. I don’t remember. The post is out there, but I think it is These Days or Jersey or maybe Keep the Faith. I can’t remember and too lazy to look right now.

  2. I just heard it tonight and it was certainly better in terms of lyric writing than the last several records he’s done. Even the two Japan bonus tracks were slow (‘Luv Can’ and ‘Shine’). It was a somber, only-listen-once-to-it kind of album and it was kinda ‘meh’. I disagree with your assessment of The Circle as I thought it’s all been crap since ‘The Crush’ album in 2000. As most, the best lyric writing was done on ‘These Days’. The song ‘Hey God’ could be a superb single that if released today would make way more impact on radio. I keep hoping as a Bon Jovi fan who has all their stuff since 1983, including the solo records, that it’s basically over at this point. I keep hoping for some good lyric writing but It got way worse after ‘The Circle’ with 2013’s ‘What About Now’ as that was some real sugary high crap you’d give a cancer patient. Richie Sambora’s 2012 solo record ‘Aftermath of The Lowdown’ was superb and his lyric writing was certainly not the pap/cliched drivel that Jon’s used to doing. Richie was always the secret sauce to Bon Jovi. Where is the Jon Bon Jovi who wrote ‘Sante Fe’ or ‘Blaze of Glory’, or ‘Blood Money’? He can and did write superb songs by himself. The song ‘Unbroken’ on the new album gave me hope when it was released last year but alas… I keep going back to the 2014 anniversary edition of New Jersey.

    The voice is gone. It’s been gone since 2009. The Circle tour was the last gasp of him sounding good live and he was fighting it then. I stopped going to shows in 2013 and the last one was subpar to me. Doesn’t warrant the ticket price. There is a clip on YouTube of him singing ‘In These Arms’ in 2019 live and it’s just fucking sad. I practically had tears in my eyes watching him struggle. Even David Bryan looked tired and done. You can see it at “Bon Jovi – In These Arms (Stockholm, Tele2 Arena, 2019)”. He’s a guy who loves being on stage and performing but it’s over. The albums, they can fix his voice with some wizardry but this album was a stark change as it sounds like him now. As a fan, I question that we waiting four years for this??? I look forward to another solo Sambora record honestly.

    1. Thanks for reading and a great thoughtful comment. I too saw the circle tour. Enjoyed it a lot. The ticket prices for the canceled tour were outrageous. Age gets the best of us. I’ll check out that In these Arms video you mention. Thanks again!

  3. Sorry, one more comment as I listened a second time to 2020. Would Jon have been better served by calling this ‘Jon Bon Jovi 2020’ and making it his 3rd solo album? In 1997 on ‘Destination Anywhere’ he had a song called ‘August 7 4:15’ which is in this tone of material. Since he wrote all the songs on 2020 himself except for two, I think this may have been better labelled as a solo record and then did a big band record for the fans which was upbeat. Just food for thought I was having.

  4. To each their own, I guess.

    I enjoyed the album immensely – Do What You Can and Limitless are brilliant messages of optimism, and I love that the band took a risk and went for a storyteller approach – loved American Reckoning and Blood in the Water is a masterpiece that will stand out as a highlight of their career?

    Perfect? No way, I find Story Of Love a bit too mushy for my taste, and Lower the Flag needed something to boost it up a bit. But I’d give the album 8/10 and say it’s as good as any in their catalogue.

  5. Thought it was a solid statement for him to release at this time. The only side track moment on this album for me was “Story of Love” and I thought possibly “Unbroken” could have been left off not because of anything but it had been long ago released as a side single. I felt in its place could have been either “Shine” or “Luv Can” . Strange thing is that on the last two records “bonus” tracks have contained songs that never should have missed a record or been released only to certain fans in certain parts of the world. “This House” contained some of his stronger songs over the last decade or so and was reflective of that time of making an album without his side kick for the first time ever, I thought that was a solid statement, and I feel 2020 is also, I feel to say Jon and its members can only be “rock stars” of the Slippery days and nothing else is unfair since artists grow and any writer is not going to have the same thoughts they had at 25 when they are 58 if they do there is another issue.

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