Review Summary: Bon Jovi goes country? I wouldn't bet my saddle on it. Or the farm. Please, someone shoot this horse and put it out of its misery.
'O Lord, he's a little bit country and
a little bit rock 'n roll. And the world is topsy turvy.
Well, not really. As a matter of fact as Jon Bon Jovi himself has stated (clearing up an earlier statement) Lost Highway
is not a country album, as had been rumored. Hell, I drag more country into my car by the bottom of my boot after pulling over to take a piss at the side of the road. Nope, according to band leader Bon Jovi, Lost Highway is merely “inspired by” and “influenced by” country music. And “Nashville.” Whatever that means?
And apparently what it means for Jon Bon Jovi and crew is pretty much the same old studio rock they have been shucking for well over twenty years, with some accordion, fiddle, and mandolin thrown in for good measure. Featuring lyrics that don't sound like they could be in a truck commercial (hello Mr. Mellencamp) but rather like they were inspired by the commercial itself, if this album is about being influenced and inspired by Nashville songwriting and country music as Jon says, it is very recent Nashville and the shallow, commercial driven rock that often comes with it. These are songs Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, or Shania Twain would welcome on their records as the “Rock” cuts or country “power ballad.” In other words, this is Bon Jovi older, softer, and a little wiser. And like the pop/rock/top 40 music many current Nashville artists dabble in, it is little of what you and I would consider country music, period. Or even roots rock. This is Bon Jovi.....over 40 and on the playlist at Starbucks. Rock n Roll can't get much worse....
Be that as it may, however, this is ground Bon Jovi knows very well, and Lost Highway exploits it for all it's worth. You get the idea from the second track forward no matter what Jon says about this album being about “artistic and musical freedom,” that only goes so far with this band. How far, you ask? Well, of the rockers on the album Summertime
with it's John Mellencamp lite riffs and embarrassing lyrics (“summertime....beach blanket and a bottle of wine”) is probably the most catchy. And without doubt the god awful worst is the 'made for a Monday Night Football intro' We Got It Goin' On
, complete with a generic stomp rhythm and lyrics that rhyme bangin'
. As in “we're bangin' and sangin' just like the Rollin' Stones.” Hey, maybe if they'd thrown in a twangin'
somewhere they would be real country?
Meh, probably not. A full half of the album is comprised of ballads, and if Lost Highway has a saving grace, that's it. These aren't country either, but no worries. In the musical climate of “Today's Country” it hardly matters. You see the truth of the matter is Bon Jovi didn't go to Nashville, Nashville came to them. Watering down every last shred of authenticity it had to offer and cow towing to fans who are “pure country” but want to rock out after church on Sunday, Nashville and many of it's premier artist have made a shift to the pop/rock center while throwing in a twang or two just to assure us all is well. It's this center Bon Jovi now happily occupy. A rock band inspired and influenced by a Nashville that has sold out to the kind of mainstream studio rock that would make even the guys in Boston cringe. So with the latter half of the album being made up of ballads such as the brashly sentimental Seat Next To You
, the over the top We Ain't Strangers Anymore
(a duet featuring Leann Rimes) and the dreary Everybody's Broken
, at least we get some music that is neither rock or country, but rather pretty pop ballads adorned with quaint instrumentation and serviceable lyrics and vocals. A little bit country, a little bit rock n roll? Nah, but at least these songs are pleasant pap, same as Bon Jovi ballads ever were.
Country music is a main ingredient in rock n roll. Countless rock musicians have played / written country music as either a side track to what they ordinarily do, or incorporate it directly into their music. From The Beatles to Neil Young, Springsteen and Mellencamp, CSN, The Rolling Stones, The Who, X, The Eagles, and newer artists such as Wilco, Son Volt, Ryan Adams, and The Knitters. These artist and songwriters (among many others) have made music that is arguably more country then many so called country artist make, and at the very least have shown an understanding of what country music is and where it came from. Lost Highway has none of that on it's mind, however. Devoid of any country heart, country soul, or country swing, if Bon Jovi had started out a country band and decided to play mainstream rock, this is what it would sound like. Same as it ever was, same as they'll always be. So much for making the most of your newfound “artistic freedom.”