Wrote off Bon Jovi after Keep the Faith? Not so fast!
It was a post-911 world, which in strange hindsight was a more optimistic time than today. Bon Jovi, always patriotic, had to respond. While only a few songs relate to the tragedy, Bounce is easily the strongest Bon Jovi platter from the last 20 years.
That was my brother lost in the rubble,
That was my sister lost in the crush,
That was our mothers, those were our children,
That was our fathers, that was each one of us.
“Undivided” makes no bones about its subject. It’s also one of the heaviest songs the band have ever laid down. Much of this, according to the band, came down to a new guitar that Richie Sambora was using. His tone is certainly aggressive and modern.
“Where we once were divided, now we stand united.”
If only temporarily. It was certainly more inspiring in its time. At least nothing can be taken away from the music, and Sambora’s always sublime soloing.
Lead single “Everyday” is less successful, leaning on modern production values instead of rock and roll. At least it rocks hard and chunky for the most part. The samples and effects could have been ejected without hurting the song. But Bon Jovi’s biggest weakness after Keep the Faith was a dependence on ballads. At least most of the Bounce ballads stand strong. The first of these is one of the strongest, “The Distance”. It utilizes Sambora’s crushing guitar effectively to create a rock/ballad hybrid. You can headbang to the riff while crooning to the verses. It’s topped with strings courtesy of David Campbell, making the whole thing so overblown…and so Bon Jovi. That’s their style. You either like it or you don’t.
“Joey” is less successful as a ballad. It’s one of those “growing up in New Jersey” songs that Jon is good at writing. “Blood on Blood” is the best example of that kind of song. “Joey”, not so much. The arrangement is generic and the words, well: “I never cared that Joey Keys was slow, he couldn’t read or write too well but we’d talk all night long.” I’m sure there are more lyrical ways of telling this story.
Midtempo “Misunderstood” is an album highlight (and second single). The chorus is the selling point. Vintage Bon Jovi melody and charisma. Unfortunately single #3, “All About Loving You” is profoundly putrid, with drum machines and tinkling acoustic guitars aplenty. A heavy rocker called “Hook Me Up” is also less than inspiring, although you can at least rock heavy to it in dumb fashion.
A pleasant ballad, “Right Side of Wrong” is similar to “Joey” but without the awkward lyrics. What does it sound like? Bon Jovi, with all the references he loves: James Cagney, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Next, Sambora’s wah-wah guitar on “Love Me Back to Life” brings some heavy to another ballad, which is good, because there are three in a row. It’s all about Sambora and the strings by David Campbell, which add some needed punch.
Most of the ballads to this point have featured piano with strings, but “You Had My From Hello” is a sweet acoustic number. Pleasant is the word. But the second last track “Bounce” is an ass-kicker and best track on the album. “Call it karma, call it luck, me I just don’t give a f…f…f…” OK, that sounds pretty cheesey. Jon refusing to drop the F-bomb is funny when you think about it, but “Bounce” was a single, so it’s not like he’s going to swear all over it. Richie’s solo is 2000s-era perfect, as good as mainstream music got back then. “Bounce” rocks. Unfortunately the album concludes on another cookie-cutter ballad, “Open All Night”. It was written about an Ally McBeal episode that Jon guested in. Hard pass.
The 2010 special edition includes a cool backstage pass and four live bonus tracks: “The Distance”, “Joey”, “Hook Me Up” and “Bounce”. The added value makes the upgrade worthwhile.
This album “bounces” back between rockers and ballads a bit much, but when the songs are solid, it fires on all cylinders. Let’s say you trimmed two songs from the album to make it an even 10, like Slippery When Wet. Then Bounce would be a more consistent listen, and perhaps considered a bit of a latter day classic. It’s still probably the last “good” album they’ve released.