BON JOVI – New Jersey (2014 Universal Super Deluxe edition, part 1)
BACKLOG! I received this box set over 10 months ago. We at LeBrain HQ are so busy with so much rock and roll that it has taken that long to finally give this entire box set a proper examination. Fortunately, we (the “royal” we) have already reviewed New Jersey itself, in March of 2014 before this box set was released. There is no need to repeat what was said in that review. It is still an accomplished album worthy of its 4.5/5 star rating. New Jersey was and easily remains a very high water mark. For this review we will look at all the bonus tracks and the entire DVD in detail. All three parts combined will probably give you the most complete look at the New Jersey Super Deluxe edition out there.
There are loads of bonus tracks to discuss, some of which were available before. Bon Jovi must have known this release was always in the cards. Look at the track list for their box set, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong. Not one of these demos is on that massive five disc box set. Many of these tracks had been leaked a long time ago on bootleg CDs such as Keep the Faith/New Jersey Outtakes, but never issued by the band. It’s natural to be cynical and say, “Well they must have been saving them for another box set like this one.”
“The Boys Are Back in Town” is an A-OK Thin Lizzy cover. When Lizzy wrote this song, Phil Lynott almost had the blueprint for the future of Bon Jovi plotted out. Bon Jovi, a back who love singing songs about the boys being back in town, were the perfect band to cover it and make it their own song. Cynics may laugh, but Richie Sambora and Tico Torres are quality players able to inject class into the cover. Keyboardist David Bryan uses the “organ” setting on his keys to offer appropriate backing for the boys. It’s hard to have a winner with a Lizzy cover and not sound like a bunch of jackasses. This one was recorded by Bruce Fairbairn for the 1989 anti-drug compilation Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell.
“Love is War” was good enough to be a single in its own right, but it was only the B-side to “Living in Sin”. Perhaps the reason it was chosen for B-side status was that the verses and chorus don’t quite jibe. The song has great, dark verses and a big old Slippery-like chorus. It doesn’t quite sound like a New Jersey song, but it’s hard to track down today.
A very rare bonus track is an acoustic version of “Born to Be My Baby”, only available on a Japanese “Living in Sin” CD single. Fans love when Jon and Richie just sit down together with a couple acoustics and do a live-in-the-studio rendition of a hit. It’s an uber-rarity that LeBrain HQ did not even know existed before this box set was issued. As usual, Richie’s soulful singing reaches deep into your guts. His classical-influenced guitar solo is a masterpiece.
Famously, Bon Jovi once considered the awful title Sons of Beaches for their 1988 album. Disc two is called the Sons of Beaches Demos and there are plenty more great tracks here that are familiar to bootleg collectors. The opening demo version of “Homebound Train” is even bluesier and greasier than the great album take. Anyone who doubts the instrumental ferocity of Bon Jovi can check this out and see what the original lineup was capable of.
“Judgement Day” opens with traditional “nah-nah-nah” Bon Jovi vocals, giving it a sound-alike quality to other more familiar Bon Jovi songs. It is good enough that it could have been on an album (or single B-side). Then “Full Moon High” (also known as “River of Love” on bootlegs) is familiar. I recognize the music from somewhere else: it became the Keep the Faith B-side “Save a Prayer”! The riff is intact, and what “Full Moon High” amounts to is an alternate 80’s version of it. It is just as great as “Save a Prayer”, and it is difficult to pick a preferred version. “Full Moon High” is an achievement, and Richie’s guitar playing is nutso. “Growing Up the Hard Way” is back to the “nah-nah-nah’s”, and it sounds as if this is an early version of “Love is War”, but with a very different chorus.
With a slinky, dusky song behind him, Jon urges someone “Let’s Make it Baby”. This tune would have been good enough for Keep the Faith, but did not surface until a double disc version of These Days was issued in the mid-90’s. This is a noticeably different mix from that release — more raw. Then “Love Hurts” goes into upbeat territory with a decent set of melodies to sing along to. It is a bit similar to “Love is War” once again, but that’s why these songs were never officially released before. I’ve had this song in my collection for 20 years, but not with this level of audio quality. Likewise “Backdoor to Heaven”, a ballad that fans have loved for a long time (just not officially). Again, this song was probably deemed too similar to others such as “I’ll Be There For You”. Same with “Now and Forever”, another ballad of high quality, but also similarity.
A harder-edged “Wild is the Wind” demo is otherwise very similar to the album arrangement, with some different bits on keyboards and acoustic guitars. Singling out Tico Torres as drummer extraordinaire, I love his hard hitting style. Same with the excellent “Stick To Your Guns”; it’s more or less already complete at the demo stage. The rawness is a beautiful thing…you can hear Richie talking at one point.
The one track of all of these which LeBrain HQ was most excited about is “House of Fire”, a song that Jon donated to Alice Cooper for his Trash LP. Brother Deke over at Arena Rock told us, “Don’t worry Bon Jovi do it great!” Cooper’s version was “unremarkable” [LeBrain Trash review], but Bon Jovi did it right. If Alice didn’t release his own single for it, I wonder if Jon would have? One word: infectious.
Fans in the know have always loved “Does Anybody Really Fall in Love Anymore”, another ballad that might be deemed too similar. Another issue is that the chorus really reaches for the high notes, and Jon misses most of them on this demo. Somebody probably realized it would be a difficult song to bring to the concert stage. The bootleg version of this is more complete, with backing vocals filling it out. This demo, perhaps earlier than the one that was bootlegged ages ago, lacks all backing vocals and sounds like it may be live in rehearsal. “Keep going,” says Jon to someone, indicating this is likely the case.
“Diamond Ring” became such a fan favourite after the band played it live that this New Jersey demo was tried out again for Keep the Faith, and finally made an album in 1995 for These Days. Each arrangement of the ballad was different from the last. This one is the earliest, featuring bluesy electric guitars and organ. Its final incarnation was much quieter.
Very conspicuous by its absence: “Rosie”. This was written by Richie and Jon about someone they knew growing up (as many of their songs are). Desmond Child and Diane Warren helped them finish it, and it was recorded by Sambora for his first solo album Stranger in This Town. Since that album featured Tico Torres and David Bryan on drums and keys, you can almost consider that a Bon Jovi song. But why is it not here, with the demo sessions that it belongs with? It’s cynical but not unlikely to think it’s due to Jon and Richie’s feud. Shame. There are other Sons of Beaches demos missing that are out there on bootlegs, such as “Love is War” so don’t fool yourself, this is not a complete set of ’em.
Come back tomorrow and we’ll look at the final disc in this set, the DVD.
To be concluded…