Sound — 5
It's important to understand the past few decades of the Bon Jovi discography while heading into the band's thirteenth studio album "This House Is Not for Sale." Those fans who last met the group during their "Slippery When Wet" and "New Jersey" years will frankly get lost among the one-dimensional mainstream sounds found throughout this new release, however the new generation of Bon Jovi followers who caught on with "It's My Life" and put regular spins on 2013's "What About Now" will likely walk away content with this release. It's the first Bon Jovi album to date that doesn't feature songwriting contributions from estranged guitarist and co-founder Richie Sambora, whose exit from the band a few years back shocked longtime fans and the circumstances for the departure remain unclear. In his place is guitarist Phil X, who surprisingly didn't play a role in the songwriting and doesn't even appear on many of the album's songs; that role goes to producer John Shanks, who is perhaps just as responsible as the rest of the band for the monotone presentation on "This House Is Not for Sale."
Both from a production and songwriting perspective, this is a very safe and restrained sounding record which sounds custom tailored to try and keep Bon Jovi on the commercial airwaves, but fails to provide anything fresh of substance here. The opening title track "This House Is Not for Sale" demonstrates much of the same formula that we find throughout the remainder of the record: the arm waving choruses, the simple "Wooaah wooaah wooaah" melodies, and plenty of country influence. Seemingly an attempt to follow up on the success of the No. 1 hit "Who Says You Can't Go Home," the band joins up with famed country songwriter Brett James for "Scars on My Guitar," a love song dedicated to Jon's guitar that continuously trips over some really mediocre lyrics ("She's the one I hold when I hold/ When there's no one to hold onto"). "Knockout" is a painful listen on the part of the lyrics as well; hardly a minute into the song, and it comes across as a Katy Perry knockoff ("Get ready for the boo-boo-oom") before opening up into the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus formula found on nearly every song on this album. When you are setting twelve songs of nearly identical commercial structure and sound, at the same level as the past several years of Bon Jovi records, much of any appeal on "This House Is Not for Sale" just doesn't result in a rewarding listen.
Lyrics — 5
Jon Bon Jovi appears to be embracing his age with this album release; at 54 his range hasn't been as sharp as it was on "Living on a Prayer" those several decades ago, and Jon has even stopped dying his hair in favor of a silver fox look that we find on the handful of new Bon Jovi music videos. Jon plays to his remaining strengths and does well vocally throughout "This House Is Not for Sale," however the real weaknesses here are the album's lyrical content and songwriting style. He's sounding nearly identical as he did on "Undivided" and "I Want to Be Loved" well over a decade ago, so it seems as though the absence of Sambora is what really damages the Bon Jovi sound with this release; even on recent records like "The Circle," there were still some memorable tracks and equally impressive six stringed moments which are noticeably absent here.
Overall Impression — 5
Bon Jovi delivers a safe sounding album with "This House Is Not for Sale," a mainstream pop rock presentation for easy listening which doesn't captivate as much as it does conjure up more of the same from 2013's "What About Now," minus the creative input of Richie Sambora. With all these outside songwriters entering the fold for this release, maybe allowing Phil X to act as not only full time guitarist on the album but also letting him play a role in the album's songwriting would have allowed for a more substantive listen. Or perhaps the absence of Sambora is something the other members of this band have yet to get over. Whatever the reason, the album falls flat early on and does little to recover.