"I ain't livin' with the ghost/No future living in the past," sings Jon Bon Jovi on "Living with the Ghost," the second song on This House Is Not for Sale, the first new Bon Jovi album without guitarist Richie Sambora. From those words, it's clear that Jon Bon Jovi isn't shedding many tears for his departed collaborator, and This House Is Not for Sale proves this to be true. While there are certainly moments of sweetness here -- he pens love songs to his woman ("Labor of Love") and guitar ("Scars on This Guitar") -- they're somewhat overwhelmed by the aggressive arena rock that dominates the album. Musically, this is a throwback -- not to the '80s but to 2005's Have a Nice Day, which is the first album Bon Jovi recorded with producer John Shanks. Often, This House Is Not for Sale -- which is the sixth album Shanks has recorded with Bon Jovi -- recalls the exuberant singalongs from Have a Nice Day ("God Bless This Mess" is a kissing cousin to "Who Says You Can't Go Home"), but where that 2005 album felt joyful, this 2016 album is driven in part by spite. Thirty years into his career and Jon Bon Jovi still acts like the underdog ("Every day I wake up with my back against the wall/Anytime you get up, someone wants to see you fall"), and he still sings like he has scores to settle. Presumably, some of these outstanding debts may be with Sambora, who did not leave on good terms, but Jon Bon Jovi is determined that "This isn't how the story ends, my friends, it's just a fork along the road," which goes a long way toward explaining how muscular This House Is Not for Sale is. Bon Jovi and Shanks may not have done much to freshen up the band's sound -- they don't take any mid-2010s musical trends into consideration -- but that simmering defiance does mean this is the band's liveliest album in years.
This House Is Not for Sale Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine