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"Unplugged Unearthed" 6 November 2003
The Guardian reviews TLFR

Source: The Guardian


Those who feel that multi-millionaire rock superstars lack a certain connection to the real world are liable to have their prejudices confirmed by the press release that accompanies the new Bon Jovi album, This Left Feels Right. "I don't recall a band ever doing this," says guitarist Richie Sambora, proudly, of the New Jersey quintet's approach to their 12th album. All well and good until you realise that This Left Feels Right is basically Bon Jovi's "unplugged" album. In fact, Bon Jovi's new album represents the death rattle of the entire "unplugged" phenomenon.

MTV Unplugged began broadcasting in 1989, just as the grunge era was gathering pace. It fitted perfectly with the prevalent musical climate, a back-to-basics enterprise that coincided with grunge's desire to rid rock music of its mid-80s excesses. The point of Unplugged, and the various spin-offs and imitators that eventually became an entire sub-genre, was presumably to allow music to stand on its own merits, with studio trickery and considerations of image stripped away. On the occasions it worked, it worked spectacularly - 90s rock produced few moments more nakedly emotional than Nirvana's unplugged reading of Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Unplugged performances changed the whole notion of your back catalogue. The very sight of a craggy rock legend revisiting their old hits packed an emotional punch that younger artists could not match, a fact not lost on Bob Dylan, who turned up to his MTV Unplugged session wearing clothes that he had consigned to mothballs shortly after making Blonde On Blonde.

In addition, most 60s legends had floundered in the 80s because they were unable to cope with the era's technological advances. Synthesizers and sampling were a bit beyond them, but unplugged sessions did away with the problem. Legendary artists queued up to join in: Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and Elton John.

So many artists jumped on the unplugged bandwagon that the whole brand became rather devalued. A quick flick through Amazon reveals that there are unplugged albums available by such seminal artists as Life of Agony and Wind Machine. There is also the head-spinning prospect of an unplugged album by The Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, who have presumably abandoned their usual sample-heavy techno sound in favour of a more organic approach.

But there can be few clearer signals that the industry has run out of puff than This Left Feels Right. Bon Jovi have chosen the precise moment when bombastic stadium rock has swung back into critical and commercial favour to divest their back catalogue of its bombastic stadium rock affectations. This Left Feels Right succeeds in drawing attention to the grisly lyrics of Jon Bon Jovi, who, when he's not offering to lay you down in a bed of roses, is frequently to be found walkin' these streets with a six-string in his hand. It also features a Starbucks-friendly jazz version of You Give Love a Bad Name. As it lurches to its horrible conclusion, the desire to unplug your hi-fi altogether becomes almost overwhelming.

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