REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (1988)

BON JERSEY_0001BON JOVI – New Jersey (1988 Mercury)

Slippery When Wet sold 28 million copies and went to #1 in over half a dozen countries, including Canada. The easy way to follow that might have been creating a carbon copy album, a sequel to follow it. Bravely, Bon Jovi chose not to do that. Their ambition was running high. The next album (tentatively titled Sons of Beaches after a line in the song “99 In the Shade”), was intended to be a double. The record company ixnay’d that due to the cost, but Bon Jovi had written and recorded plenty of good songs. The proof of this is that some of the best, including the B-side “Love Is War”, didn’t make the final single disc album.

New Jersey is not a carbon copy of Slippery nor any other Bon Jovi record. It’s more raw, more rock and roll, with bluesy elements added. There are dueling solos, long song structures, live jams and even a song in mono! Bon Jovi’s three main musicians (Richie Sambora, David Bryan, Tico Torres) performed and recorded some of their best playing on this album. Indeed, if New Jersey had come out under a different band name I don’t think many people would have recognized it as Bon Jovi. I think it remains one of their highest achievements, if not the very highest. Clocking in at almost an hour, it was a long varied album even if it wasn’t a double.

Slippery began with a long, ominous opening and New Jersey maintained that. “Lay Your Hands On Me” begins with drums and chants, but soon morphs into a top-ten (US) soul-rock single. The guitar is muscular and song is about as heavy as Bon Jovi get. “Bad Medicine” follows; the first single and one of the more pop-rock oriented songs. On the last album, Jon claimed he had a “Social Disease”, this time he needs a shot of “Bad Medicine”. I don’t think “Bad Medicine” is one of their best songs (I felt it was “just another Bon Jovi song” back then) but it sure had legs. It’s still a concert highlight today. I do prefer the album version to the single version with its playful, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I’m not done!” false ending.

“Born To Be My Baby” was written acoustically and intended to be “the hit”. I think it’s just fine electrically, which is how it was recorded. I got this one as a single in a cardboard sleeve with post cards (see below), and I prefer it to “Bad Medicine” by a fair deal. The “na na na, na na na” vocal part is catchy as hell and the song rocks hard enough for the dudes. The ballad and single “Living In Sin” follows. It too was a huge hit, helped by a black & white video with some blonde-haired male model that looked like Mike Tramp, for the ladies.

Side one’s closer was the heartfelt epic “Blood On Blood”, which was not a single, but still gets played live today. Once again, Jon has managed to capture the essence of his young adulthood, growing up in Sayreville, New Jersey. Jon, “Danny” and “Bobby” are three friends who went through everything together. But with the years and miles between them, Jon lets them know that if he got that call, he’d be right by their sides. Lyrically, it’s this kind of thing that was Jon’s bread and butter, and it also resulted in a great song musically. “Blood On Blood” is one of the band’s proudest achievements.

BON JERSEY_0002If “Blood On Blood” was not enough musicality for ya, then “Homebound Train” is Bon Jovi at their most impressive. A 5-minute blues-rock workout, “Homebound Train” is one of those tracks that laymen just won’t believe is Bon Jovi. The band laid down some harmonica and guitar solos backed by some serious groove, something not often associated with Bon Jovi. “Homebound Train” would have to be among the band’s best tracks, and it serves to open a killer side of vinyl.

“Wild Is the Wind” might be considered a ballad, I think it’s more an anthem. If you can’t stop singing along to it, congratulations, you have a pulse! The chorus is brain-explodingly good. “Ride Cowboy Ride” follows, which is a brief instrumental in mono. Although it’s intentionally just an intro to the next song, on its own it’s an enjoyable listen – in fact it made my own mix tapes on its own a few times. “Ride Cowboy Ride” serves to introduce another cowboy anthem, “Stick To Your Guns”. The title reflects the positive affirmations of the lyrics, but this is just another standout song. Any one of these songs could have been singles.

A massive single, “I’ll Be There For You”, slows the side down a bit by being so soft. I’m sure there are those out there who don’t hate this song. Musically it’s fine, but the lyrics…I just can’t handle the lyrics. “When you breathe, I wanna be the air for you.” What does that even mean?

“99 In the Shade” contains the lyric that almost named the album: “I see those Sons of Beaches out there living it up, in the surf and the sand, yeah that life ain’t so tough.” This would be the weakest song on the album. It’s a standard Bon Jovi boogie, nothing wrong with it, but it pales compared to the rest of the songs on the record. Having said that if it were on Bon Jovi’s latest, it would be one of the best songs…

A personal favourite is last: “Love For Sale”, recorded live “during one hell of a party”. This drunken jam is among the most magical musical moments on any Bon Jovi album. Consider that it was the 1980’s, and the band just came off the ultra-sleek Slippery When Wet. They threw down a drunken, smoking acoustic blues jam to close the album? Yeah, man – cool! I’m down. It’s hilarious and fun, not to mention Richie just smokes on that six-string. Tico’s on the brushes and Jon sounds blasted.

And that’s New Jersey, an album the band had to be proud of. It went #1 all over the place, and multi-platinum in the US. It’s a curious mix of rootsy hard rock quality, and pop melody. It’s certainly among the best examples of such a mixture.

4.5/5 stars

BONUS GALLERY!  “Born To Be My Baby” 45 rpm single!

I believe this baby was about $2.99 at Zellers in 1988.  It came with postcards which I obviously kept.

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27 comments

  1. Yeah totally agree with your review here Mike! I would give this one the exact same score as well. They were like u said back in 89 huge with all the sales so anticipation was running high when they delivered NJ and they delivered .
    For me this one and KTF are my two favs and well than I lost interest but still purchased there product til Bounce.
    Anyways like I said they were huge case in point the Jovi tour I saw and only saw them once was this tour in Winnipeg and it was a arena spectacle one of the first arena shows (August 1989) that I had seen that had a screen above the stage that you could see the members coming out of there dressing rooms towards the stage. In other words let the shrieking begin. Crowd went apeshit.
    There stage was was pretty basic and open so Jonny could sell tickets behind the stage as well and they had a catwalk which I think u can see in the Lay Your Hands vid that Jon could run out over the audience on…..
    There setlist just featured NJ & SWW material…Nuthin from the first two albums.
    Skid Row opened …..
    Big arena rock show….
    Never the same after….kinda…

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    1. Yeah man, I remember that big ramp in the video. At the time it seemed like the two bands with the biggest stage shows were Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. Man they were both so good back then. Makes me wonder what happened. Jon got soft with age.

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      1. Yeah I remember a yr later seeing the Crue in the Peg as well (june1990) and during Lee’s drum solo he stated “now this isn’t no Bon Jerkoff show now is it” I guess there was still resentment from that Moscow Music Peace Festival drama…so the hate was on…….
        Always thought the Crue would survive longer than Jovi but it was crash and burn for the Crue while Jovi Survived more than others thru that early 90s era. That is impressive but yeah Jon’s soft ….
        No use for that guy anymore……

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        1. Deke I’m glad you mentioned the Moscow thing, definitely a great subject for a future blog. I mailed away for the T-shirt from that festival. I loved it because it all so many bands on it, I felt like I was getting like 5 band shirts for the price of one!

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        1. Don’t make me point to the request review box again, Scott…

          I’m just kidding. That might be fun, I haven’t listened to that one in a couple years. That one and Def Leppard’s Euphoria came at roughly the same time, and I very much equate those two albums.

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        2. When I do Crush, I will do it as a combo with a Record Store Tale. T-Rev heard the first single and hated it…told me it sounded like “Bon Jovi meets Backstreet Boys.”

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        3. Fair enough! I did like that song. Actually I just remembered the album came out at the same time as Maiden’s Brave New World over here so I didn’t pay much attention to Crush at first cause I was totally caught up in Maiden.

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        4. Oh yeah, me too, but mostly I was caught up in Marillion. I had discovered them and I was buying their stuff like a fiend, there was no stopping me. Only Maiden competed with my love of Marillion at that time.

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      1. Maybe not the most talented one, but he sure had skills. He PLAYED bass, he wasn’t just there to keep the rhythm. Plus he could sing very well. When he and Richie did their backing vocals togteher, that just killed.
        But I guess the dope took the best of him.

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  2. Nice review Mike. I used to have a sweet picture disc of this LP, but I sold it for goodly amounts of money when I needed the cash. I only ever really lied the first two and the last track though – you’re spot on with Love For Sale, still one of my fave Jovi tracks, before they got a bit too mechanical.

    I saw them on this tour too, Skid Row and Vixen, with a Joe Perry/ Steve Tyler encore – happy days, apart from Vixen’s bass solo …

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      1. Yup, there’s a support group that I co-chair called ‘Survivors of the Solo’ (SOTS). One day, when we’re stronger, I feel we may need to meet Share Pedersen to gain some closure.

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  3. A very thorough, excellent review (with bonus gallery!). Well done, Lebrain!

    I never owned this album, because I never had to. Everyone I knew owned it, and I heard it a lot. When you started tossing out song titles I heard all the songs in my head, and clearly, too.

    As for the “When you breathe…” lyric, I’d say maybe it’s sexual. As in, he wants to be so far inside her, he’s in her freakin’ lungs, man. Dude wants to be everywhere. All at once. Very ambitious.

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    1. Well A, if you find this for $5 I’d say it would be a wise purchase. Or actually just wait until I buy a remastered edition with bonus tracks. You know what happens to my leftovers.

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  4. My favourite Bon Jovi album. It’s like Slippery When Wet only different. It has better songs and a heavier sound and in some songs I do recognize the SWW sound (Bad Medicine, I’ll Be There For You, Living In Sin) but for the most they didn’t chose the easy way. Loud guitars, heavy drums and bluesy killers like Homebound Train. They took a chance for sure. I could do without 99 In The Shade (Wild In The Streets pt 2?) and even though I find a drunken tune like Love For Sale pretty charming, it might not be the best song in the world.
    But the album’s most overrated song in my book is I’ll Be There For You. But unlike you, Mike, I think it’s the song itself that is mediocre. I really like the lyrics, though. I think JBJ is (was?) a really great lyricist, very poetic. He has a thing with words and cane write these really cliché and lame lyrics and make them sound poetic, for some reason.
    Blood On Blood is one of Bon Jovi’s best tracks ever and I think Living In Sin is a fantastic power ballad. Lay Your Hands On Me really kicks ass. So I agree with most of you wrote here. I’d give this album 9/10.

    Oh, btw, Jon hasn’t only gone soft with age, he has also gone crap…

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  5. So I see at the end of June Mike Jon Bon Business Man is releasing a 3 cd set of New Jersey with one of the discs being the Sons Of Beaches demos…read it over at Classic Rock Magazine website….
    How many more times can these bands reissue a reissue and than reissue…..
    Oh yeah ..it’s called $$$$$$$$$$!

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  6. Well he’s gotta release something since he doesn’t have Richie…

    Right on though, I’ll buy this. At least it’s New Jersey, and not something else that has already been released multiple times like Crush or Keep the Faith.

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