At the start of April 2022, Bon Jovi began a tour that would extend through the entirety of the month and hit numerous states through the United States. As most everyone is aware, live concerts for many bands were on an indefinite hiatus due to COVID-19. But with a new year and hopefully reduced infection rates, bands have been hitting the road again. For Jon Bon Jovi and his titular band though, the return to live performance has been met with terrible reviews.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been reading all kinds of comments online about how Jon has lost his singing voice. I figured this was probably true to an extent, but perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Any singer’s voice is going to degrade over time, and those who are often known for having an extensive range or sense of power are going to be impacted the most by the aging process. I also assumed that some of the people writing these reviews were probably going to be a bit more on the critical side of things and perhaps emphasizing the negative a bit too much.
The only fair thing to do then would be to listen to some of the songs myself that I could find on YouTube. I was not prepared for what I was about to hear.
You can immediately hear how bad his voice is, but before I continue, I do want to say that as much as people have been dumping on Jon’s performance, I do not doubt for a moment that the man is genuinely out there because of love and passion. I fully believe that he loves performing, he loves making people happy, and he loves the power of live performance and the joy it gives people. He looks really joyful on stage, smiling, bouncing around and giving it his all. That kind of energy is commendable and awesome to see at 60 years old.
All that being said, Bon Jovi’s got a problem here and it needs to be discussed in the context of what it means for performers and audiences. Even though reports of Jon Bon Jovi’s voice being shot are appearing in the news now, all it takes is a look through YouTube over the last decade to see that this is not a new problem.
This video from 10 years ago shows him singing “It’s My Life” and clearly not sounding great during it. Even one of the comments from seven years ago is lamenting how Jon’s voice has lost a few steps. But you can go back further then this back to 2000 and see videos where he’s kind of avoiding singing the hard parts, so to say. You’d be hard pressed to find a live version of “Living On a Prayer” from the last 25 to 30 years where he actually sings all of the chorus. Each time, he lets the crowd and band sing the titular phrase.
The fact of the matter is, Jon Bon Jovi hasn’t been a good live singer for a very long time, and the problem has only become more pronounced over the last few years. Even a song that’s not as technically demanding as “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” is not being performed up to snuff by Jon back in 2018.
You can even go as far back as 1990 and hear him singing slightly off quite a bit. Some people are just better in the studio than they are in a live concert venue; which is fine but let’s not pretend like this is something that just came out of the blue. And even if it did, is that really such a sin? As stated earlier, any singer’s voice is going to deteriorate over time, especially when they’re spending years upon years singing in concerts.
If you need further evidence of this, try listening to tracks off of the late, great Meat Loaf‘s final album “Braver Than We Are.” Most of the time his voice is buried amongst backing vocalists or he’s sing-speaking in a way that just barely gets him through the song. The album was released in 2016, so it is any surprise that someone known for bombastic, explosive vocals might have a shot voice after 50 years on the road?
What about Mariah Carey? Remember the New Year’s Eve of 2016 performance where she couldn’t hear the music because of a technical mishap? Along with the musical track, was a guide vocal that included her famous “whistle” range. As talented of a vocalist as she is, it’s highly doubtful that a person who was pushing 50 years old at the time is going to have the ability to hit those notes, especially in a live performance.
When someone is a powerful vocalist, we expect a lot out of them. No one’s really hounding Bob Dylan or Tom Waits about how awful their voice sounds, largely because they were never known for being amazing vocalists. Even a more acquired taste like Geddy Lee from Rush lost a lot of his vocal range by the time of their last tour. Roger Daltrey from The Who is still out there performing, but his voice is drastically different from what it was back in his heyday. So why don’t we talk about him losing his voice?
Well the difference between Daltrey and Bon Jovi is how the former has done a lot to change-up the way that he sings. Daltrey has grown into his vocal changes in a way that Jon has not. From one Jon to another, look at Elton John. In 1987, Elton’s voice changed considerably following vocal chord surgery. If he were to try singing the falsettos or upper register on things like “Crocodile Rock” or “Levon,” he’d destroy the songs. Instead, he uses his deeper tone to give the songs a richer kind of feel, like he’s singing from the gut so to say.
As I stated earlier, there’s no denying Jon Bon Jovi’s love for performing and his on-stage energy. For the sake of the fans though, he needs to do something to improve the quality of his shows. At the very least, the rest of Bon Jovi is helpful in terms of backing vocals and filling out the harmonies, but they still don’t mesh well with Jon’s voice. So what’s there to do going forward? I mean, he’s already using standards “tricks” of the audience sing along, taking songs down from their original key, etc.
For starters, I think Jon might want to try some vocal lessons. I can’t say for sure about his past, but listening to previous live concerts, he doesn’t seem like someone who had any proper voice training. It could actually help him considerably to take some lessons and lean into what his voice can still offer. Not only could that help things sound better on stage, but it might be able to preserve what’s left his singing voice for years to come.
Additionally, it might be time to hire some more backing vocalists to sing with the band. This is something that a lot of artists will do when they know their voice isn’t necessarily the greatest live; bring in some back-up. Genesis did this in their last tour to help out Phil Collins and his diminished singing capacity. Huey Lewis did the same on some of his last tours before being side-lined by hearing problems and it helped fill out the sound of the arrangements. It’s a much better alternative to having a vocal track playing in the background too since you’re sticking to a truly live performance.
It’s also dependent upon us as fans and music consumers to realize the fallibility of our idols. There is a certain power to music that can make us view artists and bands with a kind of awe that we don’t extend to other people in our lives. Regardless of our feelings though, singers are still just people doing their job and trying to fulfill expectations of their costumers. Entertainment tends to be a bit more cutthroat than other industries though and the pressure to keep on top of your game is exhaustingly high.
If you come across other articles in the upcoming days about Jon Bon Jovi’s voice, try to keep in mind what I was discussing here. Jon’s vocal problems aren’t new; they’ve been there for a very long time and it’s natural. In truth, all the singers you love are likely going to lose elements of their voice as they age, and that’s perfectly fine. Time is the great equalizer and it will wear us all down, but that’s okay. You don’t have to fight the passage of days, you can lean into it and utilize your strengths to different yet still powerful effect. This is why despite what some critics are saying, Bon Jovi doesn’t need to hang it up, they just need to embrace aging, and find a way to make it work for them and for Jon.