Lost Highway Label: Island Records
Have you heard? Bon Jovi is country! Yes, “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame” is now airing alongside Waylon and Willie. Well, not exactly.
When New Jersey’s favorite sons won their first-ever Grammy earlier this year for “Best Country Collaboration” with “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” the writing, as they say, was on the wall. Then came talk of a full-fledged country album by the once-hard rock goliaths. Anyone outside of the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong who didn’t think this would be a giant flop, raise your hand now. At least one critic, who not-so-regularly admits to liking most of what Bon Jovi has done, fully expected to hate Lost Highway. Especially after hearing (and seeing the video for) the first single “(You Want to) Make a Memory.” Ugh!
But alas, 100 million Jovi fans are not wrong. These guys really can transcend the once rigid boundaries of genre and category. And by all means, the music-consuming public followed. Although let’s get something straight, this new album is country the same way John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen are country, because CMT plays it. Lost Highway represents Bon Jovi’s first #1 album debut in the U.S. Ever. They sold almost 300,000 copies in the first week alone, and that’s in the illegal-download age, when nobody in their right mind buys albums at retail anymore. So there’s got to be more here than just that miserably sappy “Make a Memory,” right? Well, there is.
“Whole Lot of Leavin’” and the over-the-top Big & Rich partnership “We Got It Going On” are every bit as revved up and radio ready as “Livin’ on a Prayer” or “It’s My Life,” right down to Richie Sambora’s signature “wow, wow” talkbox. They couldn’t have timed the top-down cruisin' rocker “Summertime” any better. Like the music of their new genre mate Kenny Chesney, this one will set the perfect tone for their mega summer tour of amphitheaters. Be warned, it’s irrefutably contagious. As for the true country elements, well, they’re not easily found. Leann Rimes weighs in on the acoustic ballad “Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore” and the album ends with a twangy mid-tempo number “I Love This Town,” almost as if they finished the project and recalled, “Oh yeah, this was supposed to be a country album!”
No doubt Bon Jovi has earned the right to steer their own ship these days. They’ve climbed every mountain and answered every critic, rebounding from a commercial downturn in the '90s with beyond-impressive work like 2000’s Crush and refusing to die or even become irrelevant from there. Hate ‘em if you want, I say, but keeping an open mind will reward even a casual fan with a handful of surprisingly good country, er, I mean rock songs.