I don’t ever recall a band doing this,” guitarist Richie Sambora correctly says in an interview printed inside the package of Bon Jovi’s current This Left Feels Right. Sambora refers to the notion that unextinct superstars might record an album that re-approaches signature songs with new musical ideas. Here Bon Jovi, transcending the unplugged ploy, rework their hits with Patrick Leonard, best known for his Madonna lollapaloozas yet actually the last of the great line of L.A. pop-rock producers whose musical skills and commercial instincts are in close alignment. The results—a slow shuffle through “You Give Love a Bad Name”; “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Everyday” with slightly robotic grooves so raw yet velvety you’d swear Richard Dorfmeister got near them; more—confirm the pent-up musicality for which Bon Jovi have always received only partial credit at best.
In “It’s My Life,” the lone track done with Swedish pop maestro Max Martin, Jon Bon Jovi sings the past year’s finest ballad recording. “I ain’t gonna live forever,” he testifies and trembles, iconoclasm cresting as Martin tables his usual teenpop beats, instead foregrounding piano and pinpointing unadorned midnight strings. The Sinatra-esque performance, however, is no farewell. This rock masterpiece represents the singing of someone unconvinced that masterpieces are now only old records, enshrined by music magazines.