With Bon Jovi heading back out on the road this week to bring their rock n roll circus across the world, I figured it would be a good time to take a step back and review their catalog as a whole. I recently received a glorious Dual Disc of Slippery When Wet from Universal Music and while writing up a few notes on it, it seemed appropriate to take a look at their entire catalog a solid twenty-two years after their first debut.
BON JOVI (1984)
Their self-titled debut hit record shelves in January of 1984. A few months later, Runaway peaked at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sadly, this is the only song the band even thinks about performing in concert these days. The irony is that when one listens to the bands debut, its a rock-solid record full of classic Bon Jovi power chords and ballads. Get Ready, Breakout and Shot Through The Heart hold up incredibly well two decades down the road and the remaining tracks dont miss a beat as the band let the world know they had landed. One can only hope theyll dust off some of these underappreciated classics sooner than later.
Album Grade: B+
Standout tracks: Breakout, Shot Through The Heart, Get Ready, Come Back, and Roulette.
7800 FARENHEIGHT (1985)
In typical record company politics, bands have their entire lives to draw from when they make a debut, but when it comes to the make or break sophomore album, they have to record, mix and release the album within 9 months of getting off the finishing supporting the debut. The second album fell victim to short time in the studio, a double booked producer and a series of heartache from the five members. This despondency can be head on this album in To The Fire, Secret Dreams, Only Love and the bands first great ballad Silent Night. Ive never seen a song off this album performed live and aside from Tokyo Road, nothing on this album has been performed live since a one off performance of Silent Night in 1/10/90, at a charity gig in London. Its a shame because this is the album diehard Bon Jovi fans point to as a deep brooding cult classic. In & Out of Love, Tokyo Road and Hardest Part Is The Night are worthy of inclusion in any Bon Jovi set list and while the album does not have that sure fire essential single, its solid all the way through. One can only wish that at least a few of these numbers get performed one of these days.
Album Grade: B
Standout tracks: Tokyo Road, Hardest Part Is The Night, In & Out of Love, Silent Night
SLIPPERY WHEN WET (1986)
Here it is the big one. The one that blew expectations out of the water and single handedly changed the face of pop-rock music for a handful of years. When I threw the new Dual Disc in my cd player wanting to crank out the 5.1 sound, I was mesmerized at how vigorous this album was a solid two decades down the road. The multi-channels mixes are solid throughout giving great emphasis to the bracing keyboards, pounding drums and Richie Samboras charismatic guitar. Say what you want, but Slippery When Wet is one of those eternal summer albums where you can play it at any time and escape to another world. Wild In The Streets, Id Die For You, Raise Your Hands and Never Say Goodbye were never singles but hold up as perpetual rock anthems ready for any stadium, at any time. The DVD portion of the dual disc, besides housing killer 5.1 mixes handled by Obie OBrien and Mike Rew (be proud, they sound incredible)- house five music videos from Slippery with the rarities being Wild In The Streets and Never Say Goodbye. All five videos are available on DVD for the first time and one can only hope that the remainder of the Bon Jovi catalog gets this treatment.
Album Grade: A-
Standout Tracks: Let It Rock, Livin On A Prayer, Wanted Dead Or Alive, Raise Your Hands, Never Say Goodbye.
NEW JERSEY (1988)
Most people consider Slippery the bands masterpiece but they are far off the mark. The true power-pop anthem album is New Jersey whereas Slippery is a power-pop record, New Jersey takes the listener on a journey from the opening drum/keyboard solos on Lay Your Hands On Me to the Aerosmith-Jeff Beck influences of Homebound Train to the 78rpm sentiment of Ride Cowboy Ride to the acoustic blues jam at the end, Love For Sale. New Jersey is a flawless album. The demos that leaked from these sessions of unreleased songs were equally as first-rate. Initial plans were for a double album and what a double album that would have been. Its just a shame that none of those bootlegged tracks found their way onto last years career defining box set. However, whats important is that New Jersey is an album whose stature only improves with age. It contains five top-ten hits and a slew of others that could have gone top-ten (Wild Is The Wind, Stick To Your Guns, Blood On Blood). It may be a pop-metal album, but the themes of friendship, your hometown and relationship struggles ring true at any age, anywhere, anytime.
Album Grade: A
Standout tracks: Born To Be My Baby, Living In Sin, Bad Medicine, and Ill Be There For You
BLAZE OF GLORY: INSPIRED BY THE FILM YOUNG GUNS II (1990)
Never Say Die, Miracle and Bang A Drum have more to do with where Jon Bon Jovis mind was in 1990 than with Billy the Kid. This is where Jon made a turning point to embrace his rock n roll roots and show progression as an artist. While his contemporaries looked for bigger hair and louder guitars, Jon Bon Jovi looked inward. The melodic tunes hold up well and show a glimpse into the psyche of the leader of the biggest band on the planet. This is a far better album than anyone has ever given it credit for.
Album Grade: B+
Standout tracks: Blaze of Glory, Blood Money, Santa Fe, Never Say Die, Miracle, Bang A Drum.
STRANGER IN THIS TOWN (1991)
Who knew that the axe master who stood in the shadows of Jon Bon Jovi could create such a potent and resonating collection of songs? This is the best album Eric Clapton never made. The Jersey shredder dug deep on his solo debut, releasing one of the most soulful and introspective records I have ever heard. Whether it is God or a former flame, Richie speaks to his listener giving life lessons along the way and guidance for further life adventures. He may have been a stranger to the rock world, but after listening to this album, Richie Sambora laid his heart out there for everyone to see. This is one of the most philosophical and heart wrenching efforts to ever be released. In my book, its the most underrated album to be released in the last twenty years.
Album Grade: A+
Standout Tracks: Father Time, The Answer, Ballad of Youth, Rest In Peace, Mr. Bluesman, Rosie.
KEEP THE FAITH (1992)
Looking for a U2-like reinvention with this album, the band took the brave and necessary steps to stay relevant and at the same time, not completely alienate the formula that brought them great success. While the album falls short of the greatness U2 achieved with Achtung Baby, what the Jersey clan gets extra points for is the sense of adventure they take the listener on. Tracks like Fear, Woman In Love, I Want You, Little Bit Of Soul and Blame It On The Love of Rock N Roll fall short of being great songs, but in each misfire, you can hear the quest the band has undertaken. The only rule when writing and recording this album was to expect the unexpected. Bed of Roses, upon a first listen, is an elegant and soul bearing ballad (its been ruined for me by lackluster performances and non-fans wanting to constantly hear it). However, back in 1992, this was not a typical power ballad. In These Arms houses one of the catchiest chorus ever written, If I Was Your Mother is sick, twisted and had more in common with Metallica than Bon Jovi. However, the soul of this album lies in a trio of tunes; the life affirming anthem I Believe, the soul wrenching 9-minute epic Dry County and the socially relevant Keep The Faith. I have never seen an artist fight so hard to be heard the way I saw these guys fight while on tour in 1993. Even though the album is inconsistent, it still holds up today as I am still discovering the adventure with each listen.
Album Grade: B+
Standout tracks: I Believe, Dry County, Keep The Faith, In These Arms, If I Was Your Mother.
This is a Best of collection that supplies most of the major hits but does have a few misses. The two new tracks are now staples in the Bon Jovi cannon. The 1970s Elton John-esque epic ballad Always went on the become the bands biggest international hit ever and logged six months in the US top ten. The now concert staple rocker, Some Day Ill be Saturday Night was hinting as to where the band was going mere months later with These Days.
Album Grade: A- (how does one review a Best of?)
THESE DAYS (1995)
These Days is to Bon Jovi as Darkness On The Edge of Town is to Bruce Springsteen. The Bon Jovi boys dug their heels in for the deepest, darkest and definitive album. This may be the number one album on my desert island list. The band showcases what they can accomplish as songwriters when they put their mind to it by merging melodies with meaning. Something To Believe In takes Keep The Faith one step further, while This Aint A Love Song and Lie To Me are not power pop ballads, but deep brooding cries for help. Something For The Pain may be the best pop-rock anthem of the bands career to not be a hit. From the blistering opener Hey God to the melancholy Diamond Ring that finishes the album, here is a complete, fully executed album that shines in every way imaginable. The Import only bonus tracks All I Want Is Everything (which has shades of Sign Of The Times by Prince) and Bitter Wine (which is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones Wild Horses) fit perfectly on the album as it appears internationally. These Days is the best album Bon Jovi ever made, perfect in every way; I can not recommend this album enough. Now if only the band would start playing some of these songs on a nightly basis in concert.
Album Grade: A+
Standout tracks: These Days, Letting You Go, Diamond Ring, Damned, Something for the Pain, Hey God
DESTINATION ANYWHERE (1997)
When Jon Bon Jovi headed to London in early 1996 to film The Leading Man, he became inspired and was writing constantly. The end result is a stunning solo album that sounds nothing like Bon Jovi. Queen of New Orleans should have lit up alternative radio station across the country, while Jon Bon Jovi really gets naked with the listener on the introspective confessions Learning How To Fall, Its Just Me and Every Word Was A Piece Of My Heart. August 7th, 4:15 is one of the most haunting tracks the man has ever committed to tape (about the unsolved death of his managers daughter) and its a shame he has not pulled this tune out for the entire band to tear through in concert. For the first time in his career, Jon Bon Jovi took his audience on a trip through many different waters and shedding skin in the process. Destination Anywhere is a vastly underrated personal memoir. He was once quoted as saying Destination Anywhere is my Nebraska, truer words could not have been spoken.
Album Grade: A-
Standout Tracks: Queen Of New Orleans, Ugly, Every Word Was A Piece of My Heart, Learning How To Fall, Naked, August 7th, 4:15.
UNDISCOVERED SOUL (1998)
Seven years down the line, Richie Sambora found himself married and with a little baby girl. While his second solo album is not as life defining as Stranger In This Town, it showcases a man at peace with his life. I dont feel the album was as consistent thematically as Stranger but it houses a wide array of music from blues (Downside of Love) to pop (Fallen From Graceland to pure rock (Hard Times Come Easy). Theres even a heavy metal sonnet to his daughter (Youre Not Alone). The album is bookmarked by a pair of uplifting declarations; Made In America and Undiscovered Soul tell the story of who Richie Sambora is and shows that he is an artist unto himself and not just the guy who backs Jon Bon Jovi up on stage.
Album Grade: B+
Standout Tracks: Made In America, Fallen From Graceland, Undiscovered Soul, Who I Am, Youre Not Alone, If God Was A Woman.
The wait between These Days and Crush was five years. Solo projects filled in the gaps, but theres nothing like getting a new record from the band! I was fortunate to receive this record a solid two months prior to its release Stateside and let me tell you, I was exultant with it as it reestablished Bon Jovi as a force within the rock community. As much as I love These Days a full tilt power pop rocker was missing from that album. Crush had many; Its My Life, Say It Isnt So, One Wild Night and Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen From Mars. This album found the band at a crossroads where they melded the introspective with a vengeance, look no further than the epic Next 100 Years. Mystery Train is the best song Tom Waits never wrote and Just Older signifies the band in the 21st Century. The downside is that album has three dogs (Thank You For Loving Me, Save The World and I Got The Girl), but the volume is cranked up load enough for the listener to not notice those numbers. While certain b-sides would have made for a more consistent album, the band redefined their sound and returned to form in style.
Album Grade: B+
Standout Tracks: Its My Life, Say it Isnt So, Mystery Train, Next 100 Years, Just Older, Captain Crash.
ONE WILD NIGHT LIVE 1985-2001
One of the preeminent live bands of its generation finally releases a live album
this should be a time of celebration; instead I sat there and shook my head in disbelief as the album has no flow or theme to it. Instead of mixing it like a concert, these songs stand alone on the disc. Thats not entirely a bad thing, but the fact there were unnecessary edits, odd sequencing and the fact that the majority of these songs had been released as b-sides previously, the albums grade is downgraded significantly. Its not the career defining live album that both the fans and the band deserved, but merely a product churned out solely to capitalize on the success of Its My Life. It does have some killer performances on it but the haphazard nature of the sequencing does not do the songs justice.
Liner Notes: A
Pictures/Album Cover: C
Execution of sequencing and organizing the tracks: D
Album Grade: C+
Standout Tracks: Something To Believe In, Just Older, Someday Ill Be Saturday Night, Something To Believe In, Keep The Faith
The two previous times Bon Jovi came off the road and immediately began to write, the results were the bands two best albums (1988s New Jersey and 1995s These Days). Therefore, my expectations for Bounce were high. When I received an advance copy, I dug it. However, a few months later, I realized there were a number of songs that were weak and inferior to the b-sides that did not make Bounce. Three years on, I have come to realize that for every brilliant moment on this album (The Distance, Misunderstood, Hook Me Up, Love Me Back To Life) there was another song that misfired (Joey, All About Loving You, Right Side of Wrong, You Had Me At Hello, Open All Night). Therefore, whenever I listen to this album, I have mixed feelings. In a post 9/11 world, I expected more of artists who throughout the entire 1990s helped me keep the faith. Undivided and Bounce were good songs that dealt with the tragedies of 9/11, but in comparison to the gut wrenching tunes on their Rumson neighbors, The Rising, Bounce comes off as a light weight record showcased by a handful of good tunes, however, when half of the album should have been left in the demo stage, it adds up to the bands weakest studio effort.
Album Grade: B-/C+
Standout Tracks: The Distance, Love Me Back To Life, Hook Me Up, Misunderstood
THIS LEFT FEELS RIGHT (2003)
The band had a brilliant idea of releasing an acoustic album which would have showcased a side of the band far too few people see. However, when the record company rejected the majority of the live recordings from Yokohama, Japan, the band had to go back to the drawing board and hand something into the record company before the Christmas shopping season. The good news is that the band recorded a full album of reinterpreted hits in time for the Christmas shopping season. The bad news is that
well, my mother always said that if I dont have anything nice to say, to not say anything at all, The album contains no definitive versions and the only two versions worth salvaging (Wanted Dead Or Alive & Lay Your Hands On Me) did not really deserve to be on anything other than a b-side or EP. I received a lot of criticism from Bon Jovi fans when my initial review of this album came out two years ago. However, Ive had numerous people come up to me recently to tell me that time has proven my words correctly as they no longer listen to this album in any form. If the band were being graded on effort, they would have gotten an A, however, when it comes to rock n roll, effort is only part of the equation.
Album Grade: D
Standout Tracks: None
100,000,000 BON JOVI FANS CANT BE WRONG (2004)
After three disappointing releases in a row, Bon Jovi delivered a perfect collection of outtakes. The fifty songs that encompass this collection are arguably the most creative and inventive tracks the band ever recorded. This is a stunning collection of songs packaged beautifully together giving fans another look to a completely different side of Bon Jovi. Many of the songs on this box are better than songs that made final albums. Next to extensive outtakes collections by Springsteen and Dylan, this box stands beside them as a definitive collection of outtakes.
Album Grade: A
Standout Tracks: Radio Saved My Life Tonight, I Get A Rush, If I Cant Have You Love, Lonely At The Top, Ordinary People, Miss Fourth of July, Edge of A Broken Heart, River Runs Dry
HAVE A NICE DAY (2005)
This album is still too new for me to really give a definitive opinion on; however, I can tell you that after hearing the original album handed into the record company in 2004 Jon Bon Jovi did improve the album by pulling it back and adding a few new songs. I have issues with certain small changes (most notably on the title track) and the non-inclusion of Unbreakable (the best song tracked for these sessions and only on import versions); however, Have a Nice Day does not house any weak songs. Bells of Freedom is the weakest and it has continued to grow on me with each listen. My main quibble is that I dont feel like the band stretched themselves on this record. Im all for power-pop-rock records, but I almost feel the band wrote and recorded this album in their sleep. While the album does not show growth on the bands writing abilities, it is a solid record.
Album Grade: B
Standout Tracks: Last Man Standing, Who Says You Cant Go Home, Story of My Life, Novocaine, Unbreakable (import only), Complicated
RELATED LINKS: Bon Jovi