There's a lot riding on Bon Jovi's new album "This House Is Not for Sale" (Island).
It's the first album since the well-publicized exit of guitarist Richie Sambora, the first album for a label that isn't Mercury Records -- Bon Jovi's home for the previous 32 years -- and the first to come at a time when there are questions about whether the band would continue.
So, of course, Jon Bon Jovi and friends hit it out of the park. Once past the clunky title track, which trips over a chorus that is so defiantly bad it is has to have some personal meaning to the band, "This House Is Not for Sale" is no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes Bon Jovi hit-making rock.
"Born Again Tomorrow" and "New Year's Day" sound like they could have come from pretty much any Bon Jovi album in the past 30 years. "Living With the Ghost" has that timeless quality too, though its subject matter seems pretty obviously related to recent events. "I wrote each word, you gave the toast," Bon Jovi sings. "But we were fire and gasoline. I ain't living with the ghost."
"Knockout" and "Rollercoaster" show that Bon Jovi has been listening to the radio, with their amped-up, pop-leaning choruses that would still fit nicely next to "Runaway." But the tender "Labor of Love," which showcases new guitarist Phil X's shimmering work, and the aching beauty of "Scars on This Guitar" show how Bon Jovi continues to grow.
"This House Is Not for Sale" doesn't have any country tinges, none of the experimentation that has marked recent Bon Jovi albums. There's nothing wrong with that, though some will miss some of the hard-rocking edge that Sambora's guitar used to bring. Nevertheless, Bon Jovi knows how to be Bon Jovi and they still do it better than anyone else.
THE GRADE: B+
BOTTOM LINE: These five words I swear to you: Crowd-pleasing Bon Jovi rock returns
Lambchop mastermind Kurt Wagner is a master of the head fake. And his band's 12th studio album "FLOTUS" (Merge) is no different.
No, this isn't an hourlong ode to Michelle Obama -- though someone should totally get on that. "FLOTUS" stands for "For Love Often Turns Us Still," and Wagner has said it is influenced by the work of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean.
That influence, though, is more in production techniques and mood rather than musical genre, as Wagner's poignant, lower-register vocals are still front-and-center as he offers poetic details about everyday occurrences.
Bookended by the 12-minute "In Care of 8675309," a likely nod to the Tommy Tutone classic, and the 18-minute "The Hustle" -- both groove-driven epics more interested in conjuring moods than filling dance floors -- "FLOTUS" is one of those albums that reveals itself over repeated listenings.
The gorgeous "Howe" is built on a lovely melody that would make Paul Simon proud, but is filtered through the electronic clattering and warm-percussion production that drives Frank Ocean's music. The '70s soul of "Old Masters" is updated by the heavy electronic distortion on Wagner's voice. Don't fall for the distraction, though, these Lambchop melodies are as memorable as ever.
THE GRADE: B+
BOTTOM LINE: Another surprising shift from the alt-country pioneers
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