Released on October 2, 2020 (Island)
I must confess that I haven’t bought a Bon Jovi studio album in almost three decades. The reasons are obvious. The Bon Jovi that I knew and grew up with in the late ’80s / early ’90s is simply not the same as the Bon Jovi of the last 20 years. Funny enough, earlier this month, I visited a local record store with the intention of purchasing AC/DC‘s PWR/UP but then remembered that the release date for that record was later this month. After browsing the record store quickly, I decided to take the plunge and purchase the latest studio album from Jon Bon Jovi — I mean Bon Jovi — on the strength of the catchy single “Do What You Can.” If it wasn’t for that single, I would have never bought Bon Jovi‘s latest record 2020.
The obvious major differences between the Bon Jovi that I knew in the late ’80s / early ’90s to the “group” that I am now listening to with 2020 are Jon Bon Jovi‘s voice and the absence of guitarist Richie Sambora. The latter has been gone from the band for sometime so there is no need to dwell in that regard. However, it’s quite obvious that frontman Jon Bon Jovi has lost the range in his voice and not just a little bit but in a rather big and noticeable way. I first noticed that Jon Bon Jovi‘s voice seemed “shot” when I heard a live clip from the band’s successful tour in support of the record This House Is Not For Sale. It took a little while to get used to on the album 2020 since it showcases Jon Bon Jovi singing in a “safe” and kind of bland vocal range throughout the record. While there is no question that I would rather hear the Jon Bon Jovi that sang on Slippery When Wet (1986) and New Jersey (1988), I was actually impressed with what the singer was able to pull off on 2020. Jon Bon Jovi was able to deliver some pretty good songs that fit his “new” limited vocal range. I used the term”new” loosely since I don’t really know since when Jon Bon Jovi‘s ’80s voice left him.
In addition to the songs fitting Jon Bon Jovi‘s current vocal range, the background vocals on 2020 help to mask what has become a real problem for the singer. Listening to the chorus on tracks such as “Limitless”, “Do What You Can” and “Beautiful Drug”, it seems that Jon Bon Jovi‘s voice is kind of buried and for good reason. Another surprising thing for me on 2020 is that there are now apparently seven band members with newcomers Everett Bradley (percussion) and John Shanks (guitar), with the latter also handling co-production duties with… guess who, Jon Bon Jovi. It’s become apparent that Bon Jovi aren’t really a band anymore but rather a solo project by Jon Bon Jovi with some familiar faces such as drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryant. All of the songs on 2020 are apparently written by Jon Bon Jovi except the two best tracks “Do What You Can” and “Beautiful Drug.” Truth is, the “band” Bon Jovi has really become solo album ventures from the ambitious frontman but obviously, the Bon Jovi name has some clout and so it’s not surprising that the singer’s music is being released under that name.
My favourites off 2020 are definitely the faster paced sing along type tracks such as “Limitless”, “Do What You Can” and “Beautiful Drug.” Funny enough, “Beautiful Drug” reminds me a little of “Born To Be My Baby” off New Jersey while the verses on “Let It Rain” conjures images of “Blood On Blood.” The third song “American Reckoning” has a Bruce Springsteen flavour to it which is not surprising since both he and Jon Bon Jovi originate from New Jersey. The rest of the songs on the album are kind of dull to average. Unfortunately, Jon Bon Jovi‘s voice does not have what it takes to carry a song like “Unbroken” even if it is admirable that 100% of the proceeds from the download of the single for the first year apparently went to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation. In addition, the track “Unbroken” was used in conjunction with the Invictus Games, which resulted in a special version of the single featuring Jon Bon Jovi (again by himself without his band members), Prince Harry and the Invictus Games Choir.
Prior to the release of Bon Jovi‘s new studio album 2020, the singer had warned that he would be tackling some ‘socially conscious’ themes and he didn’t disappoint. “Do What You Can” talks about the fight against the Covid pandemic, which has sadly taken many, many lives and also created financial and economic havoc all over the world. “American Reckoning” is a protest song with respect to American George Floyd‘s death (while being detained by police in the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) and in support of the movement Black Lives Matter. I appreciate that this will likely alienate a portion of Bon Jovi‘s fanbase and I suppose that I might not view these ‘socially conscious’ themes in the same way if the messages went against what I believed in. Whatever the case, it’s refreshing to see the 58 year old Jon Bon Jovi tackling some more mature themes. It adds more credibility to the songs as I just don’t see Jon Bon Jovi singing about a working class couple struggling to make ends meet like Tommy and Gina on “Livin’ On A Prayer” off 1986’s Slippery When Wet at this stage in his career.
Bon Jovi‘s latest album 2020 has its moments and is better than I thought that it would be. It doesn’t come close to the band’s output from the late ’80s / early ’90s but is better than some of the rather questionable material that the group has come up with since then. I was pleasantly surprised with 2020 and could even see myself playing the album after this review is completed.
02. Do What You Can
03. American Reckoning
04. Beautiful Drug
05. Story of Love
06. Let It Rain
07. Lower The Flag
08. Blood In The Water
09. Brothers In Arms
Jon Bon Jovi – lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica
David Bryan – keyboards, background vocals
Tico Torres – drums
Hugh McDonald – bass
Phil X – guitar, background vocals
Everett Bradley – percussion, background vocals
John Shanks – electric guitar, synths, drum programming, background vocals
David Campbell – arranger and conductor for strings
Produced by John Shanks and Jon Bon Jovi
Recorded by Obie O’Brien and Dan Chase
Engineered by Keith Gretlein, Bradley Giroux and Kenta Yonesaka
Mixed by Michael H. Brauer
Mixed by Bob Clearmountain (2, 3)
Mastered by Joe Laporta
Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, November 2020
Bon Jovi‘s “Do What You Can” video:
Bon Jovi‘s “Limitless” video:
Bon Jovi‘s “Unbroken” video: