There is a picture that has haunted Jon Bon Jovi for a while. It wouldn’t get out of his head. It was a black & white photograph by Jerry Uelsmann. The artist had combined a picture of an old house, with strong roots. For Jon “this photo paints our picture – and so it became our album cover”, he says.
This was also the picture he had in mind when he wrote the title track of Bon Jovi’s 14th studio album. The album is called “This House Is Not For Sale” and it marks a stage of returning home – and returning to a label at which he signed his first (and only!) record deal. Produced by John Shanks and Jon Bon Jovi, many parts of the new LP were recorded in New York City, at the Avatar studios (former Power Station), in which the band recorded their very first album in 1983. The rest of the album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios.
“Because of all the things we’ve been through in recent years, we’ve bonded even more as a band”, says the singer, “and luckily things worked out with the label. Now we have a fantastic record that tells a story and at same time doesn’t have to prove anything”.
The title track “This House Is Not For Sale” kicks the door in, and the lyrics go:
“These four walls have got a story to tell,
the door is off the hinges, there’s no wish in the well.”
The four walls symbolize the band members, and Jon refers to his legacy:
“I set each stone and I hammered each nail”,
the lyrics continue. “Yes, the title track is about honesty, about integrity. I deal with all those things that I’ve been through in the past three years, and as the lyrics say:
this heart, this soul, this house is not for sale!”
With this message the curtains are being lifted for the newest works of a band that in over three decades and with incomparable success has been through the ups and downs of the music business. Worldwide, these gentlemen have sold over 130 million records. Throughout decades, they have, time and time again, catapulted new anthems into the charts and radio playlists. They’ve completed worldwide tours, which would bring them bigger audiences and more sales records. Unique achievements – but the basis of “This House Is Not For Sale” was the exact opposite: it arose from a phase of radical changes and insecurity. The twelve tracks of the record document three turbulent years, in which Jon had to decide on a new direction. Although for Bon Jovi, there’s always been only one answer to situations like this: Step on the gas. Hard.
The band has been through a phase like this after the massive chart success of “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey”, when they stood before a dead end. Jon took a break – and came back with “Blaze of Glory” for which he would win a Golden Globe and, on top of that, received an Oscar nomination. In 1992 the band crisis was over: “Keep The Faith” was released and they were on top of the game again. A decade later, at the beginning of the new Millennium, came “Crush” (2000) – and with the Grammy nominated hit “It’s My Life”, they delivered a new anthem…
“This House Is Not For Sale” fits right in: Bon Jovi have never been bigger, but at the same time they’ve never been more self-critical. Despite the fact that the series of sold out tours, albums, and radio hits has continued, the band hasn’t been the same after the 2013 stadium shows: the chemistry, the roles have changed, the label situation was unclear. Until January 2015 Jon took a break, had not even written any new songs. But when he started, these feelings that had built up during this rough patch, transformed into honest, enthralling songs, in which Jon could express his anger, his grief and, lastly, his acceptance – which is why the new songs sound like a kind of rebirth.
After the clear announcement of the title track, the record continues with “Living With The Ghost”, in which Jon Bon Jovi deals with the subject of loss: A man tries to wash his feet in the holy water of the church, but then continues –
“then he worked up to his knees
from his arms to his neck
and said I’m in over my head.
He was crying trying to get some relief,
I’m just trying to get some relief.
I had this dream.
That man was me.”
A moving dream, a cry for help, and Jon confesses: “People know me as storyteller and barely know this hurt side of me. We’ve often enough sung anthems about graceful life, about integration into society.”
A known subject that resurfaces, is the fight: “Knockout” is a head-up-high-chest-out-anthem, the way it’s known for Bon Jovi. It starts with the back against the wall –
“every day I wake up with my back against the wall”,
and ends with the knockout, where the lights of the opponent turn out:
“here comes the knockout,
my time is right now,
turning your lights out,
I’m throwing down.”
“The song is about the fight with one’s own hope”, says Jon. “It’s about that fighting spirit, that we all feel – in so many situations.”
The song “Labor of Love” feels as if one is sitting with the band in the studio: recorded live, the guitar track and Jon’s much deeper voice, feel incredibly close and intimate. And of course, it’s about love: The rock star, who is known for his lasting relationships, alludes to exactly these ties that don’t break even after decades.
Would you do it all over again the same way, or change something – “relive every moment” vs. “tear out any page” – that is the subject of “Born Again Tomorrow”, a song in which Jon devotes himself to “the decisions, the answers that you yourself have found.” Following impressive lines like
“bones grow stronger where they break, who says scars don’t fade?”,
his own answer couldn’t be any clearer:
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
He doesn’t want to miss a single moment.
Even the “Rollercoaster” is a metaphor for his own life, the love, the low blows along the way: Life is not a children’s carousel, but rather a roller coaster – but precisely because of that, one shouldn’t close their eyes:
“time flies by… don’t close your eyes.”
The subject of time and the same Carpe-Diem message reappears in “New Year’s Day”:
“Let’s toast to new beginnings, raise up a glass and say,
‘for all of our tomorrows, and what was yesterday’.”
An ode to the cohesion of the band, this track was initially in 6/8-time, planned as waltz, so to speak. In the studio, it turned out quite different after Tico counted the beat and the band jumped in: “It was just fantastic to see the band together like that,” Jon remembers. “This one is a piece that just happened in the moment – and the whole band was involved.”
The changes in the music industry are finally addressed openly and bluntly in “The Devils In The Temple”:
“There are thieves at the altar,
a snake wears the crown,
handing you coal, swearing it’s gold.
Look what they’ve done to this house of love.
It’s too late to turn the river to blood,
the savior’s come and gone,
we’re out of time,
the devil’s in the temple,
he ain’t no friend of mine.”
“Yeah, when I’m talking about a temple, I mean the label,” says Jon. “I’ve always had only one dream: To write songs and to present them in this church. It wasn’t easy to put away the changes in the industry, which led us to change our relationship with this former ‘home’ after 33 years. Fortunately, we have left this chapter behind us now.”
As a songwriter, who has spent a third of a century on tour, Jon steps to the mic with “Scars On This Guitar”:
“Another Friday night I’m somewhere,
a little drunk and worn out from the show”,
begin the lyrics,
“It’s a hallway to a hotel room,
the truck’s already rolling down the road”,
and then she comes, his guitar:
“she’s been with me late at night
when I was drowning in the dark,
she heard my every word
when I was pouring out my heart.
So I thank my lucky stars
for every crack, scratch and scar on this guitar…”
If there is one thing that really stood the test of time, then it’s her: His scarred guitar.
Other scars and cracks are the subject of “God Bless This Mess”, which begins a capella:
“I got some blood under my nails,
I got some mud on my face”,
he sings, and joined now by the band the story goes on – the voice is gone, the hair turns gray, the muscles hurt. And while many simply hope to pull through a storm, others rise in such situations: This is the mess that Bon Jovi celebrate here because they are not alone, they can rely on each other.
“Reunion” is about the spirit of discovery, that Jon even linked to his speech, that he delivered before graduates, when he accepted his honorary doctorate at Rutgers University: At the time, he gave the audience the advice to paint their lives in pencil, provisionally, because there are always other variants:
“this is not how the story ends, my friend,
it’s just a fork along the road.”
“Come On Up To Our House” is the final track of the album, and Jon knew exactly when the new album was finished: “I just knew that nothing is missing, when the songs began with an ‘I’, and ended on a ‘We’.” The line
“All Are Welcome at Our Table”
originates even from one of the Soul Kitchen restaurants that are operated by his own foundation: “Inclusion is incredibly important to me,” says the head of the band.
Inclusion, community spirit and involvement are key elements of this success story, which has now lasted over three decades and connects generations. “This House Is Not For Sale” is the latest chapter of this story, which, on entirely new roots, goes into the next round…
Translation of Universal Music Germany’s Bon Jovi biography