Hugh McDonald

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Bounce (2002, 2010 special edition)

BON JOVI – Bounce (2002 Universal, 2010 special edition)

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.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Real Life” (1999 CD singles)

Forget Valentine’s Day…except when it’s good for traffic!  Back in my single days I used to call it “Bon Jovi Day” and listen to nothing but Jon & Richie.  Here’s some Bon Jovi for you!

BON JOVI – “Real Life” (1999 Reprise & promo CD singles)

There was an unprecedented five year interregnum between These Days and Crush.  This pause allowed Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora to get some solo albums out of their systems before the band re-convened.  In the buildup to the new album, Bon Jovi contributed a new single called “Real Life” to the movie EdTV.  Remember EdTV?  There were two movies out at the same time about a guy who had his whole life broadcast on television 24/7.  One, The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, was a huge hit.  The other, Ron Howard’s EdTV starring Matthew McConaughey, was the also-ran.  EdTV might have been more interesting, but bombed.  This rendered the Bon Jovi single relatively obscure.  It’s not the first time a Bon Jovi movie track misfired.  Remember “Good Guys Don’t Always Wear White”?

“Real Life” was a decent tune, but it was a ballad at a time when Bon Jovi already had plenty.  There’s little to draw your attention, aside from Richie Sambora’s always alluring guitar and vocals.  The watery guitar tone is not far removed from These Days, but that album boasted the kind of ballads you’d never forget.  Songs like “Something to Believe In”, “These Days”, and “(It’s Hard) Letting You Go” are the kind of songs you carry your whole life.  “Real Life” is not.  In the wake of These Days, it was just another ballad.

Who is “Desmond Childs“?

This commercial single has two versions of “Real Life”, but there are actually four versions out there!  For the “album version”, if you don’t want the EdTV soundtrack, look for a promo single instead.  The differences between the album version and the radio mix are slight, but the album version has more guitar where the single mix has more piano.  The third version is an instrumental mix, which is nice if you want to listen to Richie’s guitar a little more.  The fourth and final version is an alternate mix that can be found on the box set 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong.

Finally, a live recording of “Keep the Faith” rounds out the single.  It seems to be a standby live B-side for this band.    They used another version on the 2013 single for “Because We Can“.  It’s certainly one of their most accomplished songs.  The bass groove and Tico’s busy drum patterns keep your feet moving.  It’s noncommercial and it strives to be something bigger.  It might be, in a technical sense, Bon Jovi’s most unapologetic and best hit.

Interestingly enough, “Real Life” is the only Bon Jovi video without David Bryan who was away on an injury.  I don’t think he missed out on much.

2.5/5 stars

 

Richie Sambora, Bret Michaels, Robin McAuley and more! The stars rock Kitchener (11/17/2017)

Boppin heard a rumour that Bon Jovi was coming to town. Then an anonymous source informed us that a super-secret private concert was taking place Friday night right here in Kitchener Ontario.  The list of talent:

Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm and Stephanie Calvert of Starship.
Backed by an all-star cast of legendary rockers and potential surprise guest performers:
Howard Leese
-Guitar- Heart, Bad Company, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Hugh Mc Donald
– Bass- Bon Jovi
Doug Aldrich
– Guitar- Whitesnake, Dead Daisies, Dio
Jay Schellen
– Drums- Asia, Yes
Michael Ross
– Keys- Lita Ford Band, Missing Persons
Robin McAuley
– Vocals- MSG/Survivor
Andrew Freeman
– Vocals- Offspring, Last in Line
Paul Shortino
– Vocals- Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot
Mark Boals
– Vocals- Yngwie Malsteen, Dokken

And then our sources tell us that Bret Michaels showed up!

Richie played guitar, but also sang lead vocals without one.  According to our source:

“He did both. He was out for the middle bit of the show. He did two Bon Jovi songs, “Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” and then a super extended (self serving if I’m honest) rendition of “Respect Yourself”. General consensus was that he was the low point of the night!! Even his back up singers, Robin McAuley, Mark Boals, Paul Shortino and Stephanie Calvert looked confused by the end. The night was amazing. So much energy and so much sound.”

Our source also enjoyed Robin McAuley.  “He was awesome. ”

Enjoy these photos!  Thanks to Krista Ward, our anonymous source!

 

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “This House is Not For Sale” (single)

BON JOVI – “This House is Not For Sale” (2016 Island single)

THE GOOD: Decent song, a little bit of rock, some tasty guitar work from Phil X, very much another Bon Jovi singalong for the working man.

THE BAD: More of the same. We’ve heard Bon Jovi do this exact kind of song many times over the last 15 years. Apparently the addition of Phil X hasn’t injected much new into the sound.

THE UGLY: It’s nice to see Phil X and Hugh McDonald on the cover art…but why did it take 20 years to finally put a picture of Hugh on the cover?

The new Bon Jovi album This House is Not For Sale will be out October 21. It’s far too early to judge, but the lead single doesn’t indicate that much has changed in Jovi Land. If you liked their last bunch of albums (basically everything from Have a Nice Day to Burning Bridges) then you’ll enjoy “This House is Not For Sale”.

3/5 stars

THIS HOUSE

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Bon Jovi (1984, 2012 special edition)

Part one of a Bon Jovi two-parter!

BON JOVI – Bon Jovi (1984 Polygram, 2012 special edition)

With Bon Jovi sucking quite a lot of ass lately, there has never been a better time to go back and check out some old Bon Jovi.  Join us in taking a look at the band’s very first LP, Bon Jovi from 1984.  It didn’t do much in terms of sales.  The music videos are kind of funny to look at today.  But there is an honesty and innocence to early Bon Jovi, that is completely gone from the band now.  Then, they were five hungry guys trying to make it together.  Today they’re three guys — one boss and two employees.  Today we will look at the 2012 reissue, with four live bonus tracks.  This is notable since Bon Jovi rarely if ever played these songs after they hit it big.

Jon Bongiovi had been working at Power Station recording studios, having got a job there thanks to his cousin Tony Bongiovi.  Several demos from that era have been released on compilations such as Jon Bon Jovi – The Power Station Years.  The studio time evolved into a band with a record deal.  They soon set down to record nine songs for their debut album to be called Tough Talk, however the label convinced them a self titled debut was the way to go.

The first track and single was actually an older song: “Runaway”.  JBJ had a local hit with it, which he recorded with the “All Star Review”, five local studio guys.  Among them was bassist Huey McDonald, who later went on to play bass with Bon Jovi themselves. It’s an instantly catchy rock song leaning heavily on keyboards. Even from this early track you can tell that young Jon Bon Jovi had a hell of a talent for writing catchy hooks. The immaculate backing vocals are obviously not those of Richie Sambora. Just wait until Jon goes for the high notes at the end though!

It was 1984, the peak of the “post-apocalyptic wasteland” setting for music videos.

Moving on to “Roulette”, we now get a song that is a little harder-edged. Richie has a chunky guitar riff that gives the song some weight. Jon pours it all on, and it’s clear even on this first album that Sambora was a serious talent. His style has evolved considerably over the years, but at this stage he was already capable of writing great songs with memorable guitar solos.

“She Don’t Know Me” was also a single, but this one has not aged so well. Sounding like a New Jersey version of the lighter side of Journey, “She Don’t Know Me” is a lil’ too sappy for most adults. It’s not terrible but “She Don’t Know Me” is just too heavy on the syrup. It is at least upbeat, with a Sambora solo right out of the Neal Schon book of tricks!

“Shot Through the Heart” is a forgotten song, since its title was used as in the chorus of “You Give Love a Bad Name”. This is a hard rock heartbreak, the kind of thing Jon does so well. The balance comes from Sambora. Without him, there’s no edge. He brings a very special guitar quality to the table, not to mention songwriting.

The first Bon Jovi album’s biggest weakness is an over-reliance on sad sounding love songs. “Love Lies” is another one, a dusky piano based ballad. David Bryan (known here as David Rashbaum) co-wrote it with Jon, and like all the other tunes it does have quality to it. It’s just too much heartbreak for one side of vinyl.

“Breakout”, also written by Rashbaum, is a hard enough rocker to open side two. Jon has found some backbone, telling his ex that he’s “better off on my own”. That’s better, Jon! Let’s stay strong buddy, and crank out a rocker. “Burning for Love” continues the hot streak. Now we’re cooking with gas. Richie really nails it on the axe. Then is a song called “Come Back”. You might expect by the title that Jon has lost his balls again. Thankfully, his pal Richie is there to keep him standing. “Come Back” is a bit of a broken-hearted rocker, but Sambora’s pick scrapes keep it rock and roll.

One last rocker was all you needed to call it an album back then. Of all the songs on Bon Jovi, “Get Ready” sounds the most like what Bon Jovi would become famous for: good time rock music! Guitar, piano, bass and drums: that’s all you need for a rock and roll party. This really sounds like Bon Jovi.

That’s a pretty solid debut album right there, for a band in Bon Jovi’s league. I have no idea why they (he) won’t play so many of these songs anymore. They’re better than most of the stuff he’s been putting out lately. And we still have the four bonus tracks to discuss.

The four live songs come from various shows, 1984-1988. Each is heavier than its studio counterpart. “Runaway” benefits from the full band treatment, as opposed to the studio cats. Having Richie there singing it with Jon makes all the difference. (This is not the same version as the B-side from “Lay Your Hands On Me”.) “Roulette” is a solid inclusion. “Breakout” keeps it rolling, but you gotta love that “Get Ready” was also included, ending the album as it always has.

3.5/5 stars

2010 Special Edition bonus tracks
1. “Runaway (Live Le Zenith, November 20, 1988)”
2. “Roulette (Live BBC Friday Rock Show)”
3. “Breakout (Live Super Rock ’84)”
4. “Get Ready (Live Japan Tour 1985)”

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Trash (1989)

I sure hope I don’t get “trashed” for this review!  Incidentally, this is the first CD I ever bought, in December of 1989.  I still have it.

COOPER TRASH_0001ALICE COOPER – Trash (1989 Epic)

After the strictly heavy metal n’ horror sounds of the previous two albums, Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell, Alice decided it was time to get back to more diverse hard rock sounds. This time, he immersed himself in everything that was cool in the late 80’s, and created a “theme album” about sex. Cooper albums usually have themes — Alice Cooper in school (School’s Out), Alice Cooper in hell (Goes To Hell), or Alice Cooper insane (From The Inside). Sex was a new theme for this character.

Alice teamed up with Desmond Child, champion of many Bon Jovi and Aerosmith discs, as well as Mr. Jovi and Mr. Tyler themselves, among others. The result is unfortunately what I consider to be a weak disc, dated to the times, and with only a few strong songs that have held up over the years. It is certainly a creative low, though it did sell oodles of copies and was a sort of “comeback” album for Alice.

The first track and first single, “Poison”, is by far the best song. It is strong because it is based on the riff, and though it is commercial it is not blatantly so. It has a unique vibe to it, something authentic that other bands couldn’t touch. Sadly it’s mostly downhill from there. “Spark In The Dark” is unremarkable (though it does boast a killer riff), and so is the second single “House of Fire”. “House of Fire” at least has a catchy chorus, but it is simply too cookie-cutter. You could exchange it with virtually any single from any band’s albums in 1989.  Just look at the writing credits: Desmond Child, Joan Jett, and Alice.  Who was this song written for?

“It’s Only Heart Talking”, which was not written by Alice, is a decent ballad made more special with Steven Tyler’s duet. Otherwise, it is forgettable and inferior to later Alice ballads such as “Might As Well Be On Mars” and “Stolen Prayer”. Smash hit, though, so there’s that.

The lyrics to “Trash”, a duet with JBJ himself, are so bad it’s not even funny. “If my love was a lollypop, would you lick it?” Did Jon Bon just say that? “I’m Your Gun” is hardly better.  I just can’t bear to listen to those songs.  If you’re in the mood for some absolute dreck, check out “This Maniacs’ In Love With You”.

COOPER TRASH_0002One of the more interesting songs that didn’t make the album was “The Ballad Of Alice Cooper”, written by Jon Bon Jovi. There is a poor quality demo of Bon Jovi doing it in his best Alice voice out there. I think it might have been better than most of the tracks on the CD. The Japanese version, however, does have great live versions of “Cold Ethyl” and “Dwight Fry” recorded during this era.  (They can be found on the Alice Cooper Extended Versions CD today.)

This album like its sequel Hey Stoopid was loaded chock full of cameos.  Just scanning the credits, besides Bon Jovi and Steven Tyler, I see: Kip Winger, Hugh McDonald, Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Steve Lukather, Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton.  I think these cameos are very little more than hype.

Cooper’s albums tend to go in similar pairs (Nightmare/Goes To Hell, Constrictor/Raise Your Fist, Brutal Planet/Dragontown). Trash is no exception. Although Cooper realized that Trash was too soft and weak, Hey Stoopid is essentially a brother record to this one. I find it to be much much stronger by comparison.

I would tell casual fans instead of picking up this CD, to pick up something like Cooper’s Classicks. You’ll get the major tracks from this as well as some rare live ones.

2/5 stars

COOPER TRASH_0003

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – The Circle (2009 CD/DVD edition)

CIRCLE_0004BON JOVI – The Circle (2009 Island CD/DVD edition)

The Circle is an apt title for this Bon Jovi album. They returned from their pop country detour down the Lost Highway and returned to essentially exactly where they were on the previous album, Have A Nice Day. If you are familiar with Bon Jovi, you know that Have A Nice Day was an OK record full of pop rock like “Last Cigarette”, modern and slick. That’s what this record is too, but that’s starting to get a little old.

First single “We Weren’t Born To Follow” (I find that title ironic as Bon Jovi didn’t spend much of their career leading, musically) is a great, uptempo song with a catchy chorus and slick guitar playing by Richie Sambora. It’s another in a long succession of latter day Pop Jovi successes. The best tune on this record is the the “statement song” regarding the economic collapse: “Work For The Working Man”. However, isn’t there something we’ve heard here before? Doesn’t Hugh McDonald’s bassline sound a lot like the one from “Livin’ On A Prayer”?  Even if it’s little more than a rewrite of the same hook, it’s a great song with a powerful chorus.  It has some muscle to it, and is one of the few songs on the album that does.  Rhythmic and strong, this echoes not only “Prayer” but also “Keep The Faith” in some respects.

Elsewhere on the album, there are some intriguing sounds that almost remind me of the back-to-basics goodness that was These Days, and the heavier moments on Bounce (see: “Bullet”).  However “Bullet” is also bears unpleasant similarities to Collective Soul. There are also moments that take me back to Lost Highway and Crush ,but not in a good way.  Songs like “Fast Cars” and “Brokenpromiseland” (ugh!) just sit there like the flaccid Pop Jovi songs that they are.  Bon Jovi are on cruise control.

CIRCLE_0002My two favourite Bon Jovi albums of recent vintage (ie: post-Keep the Faith) are the criminally underrated These Days, and Bounce. What the band need to do is: A) get their MVP back, Mr. Richie Sambora.  B) write an album without all these outside writers like John Shanks and Billy Falcon, based on rock and roll, not the radio.  The Circle is close at times.  “Learn To Love” for example was written by Jon and Richie with Desmond Child, and approaches a vintage These Days epic quality.

How likely is Bon Jovi to rock out like they used to? The DVD documentary included with this edition of The Circle is not encouraging. Entitled When We Were Beautiful (named for the U2-like song on the album), it is an insightful look into the inner workings of Bon Jovi.  It also has some enticing live clips. (Please, Jon, please! Release a full length audio version of Richie singing “I’ll Be There  For You”, it’s great!) However it is quite clear that Jon is the driving force of the band, and the rest of the guys are salaried employees of the corporation.  Jon is very clear that he’s a businessman and he must make albums that he thinks people will like.  It’s unfortunate that he’s decided that pop music is the answer.  I think it’s unlikely Jon will be breaking new ground again soon.

But you never know.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection (2 CD)

Part 1 of a 2 part Bon Jovi series.

ULTIMATE BJ_0001BON JOVI – Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection (2 CD)

I guess Bon Jovi were due for a new “hits” CD. Crossroads, after all, was 16 years old at that time, and Tokyo Road was only made available in Japan. Ultimate Collection isn’t the ultimate collection that I would have put out.  If you’re going to do two CDs, you have room for great also-rans like “Last Cigarette” and “Something For The Pain”.  Still, it’s not a bad Bon Jovi collection. Listening to it front-to-back, I was pleasantly reminded of all these hits, and man, Bon Jovi had a lot of hits. From early stuff like “Runaway” to the New Jersey classics such as “Born To Be My Baby”, to the newbies like “Have A Nice Day”, this has pretty much all the key Bon Jovi radio hits. Unfortunatly, you’re going to miss out on second-rung hits like “Dry County” and “Joey” but for the uninitiated, or those who just want a good sized Bon Jovi collection, this is the place to go.  I think it’s important to explore albums such as New Jersey (the review of which is Part 2 in this series) and Keep the Faith, as well as hits.

Almost every Bon Jovi album has hits included here, right up to The Circle. The song flow is excellent, hitting you with hit after hit after hit, landmark ballads sprinkled in between. And I give credit for the inclusion of “Blood On Blood”, a song that was never a single but has been a huge concert favourite due to its real life story of JBJ’s childhood. Not to mention it’s just a great song.

ULTIMATE BJ_0003The four new songs create feelings of moderate indifference to great dislike. “What Do You Got?” is another trademark Bon Jovi ballad, certainly nothing special, outshined to a great degree by all the other tunes here. It’s easily forgettable and feels tacked-on as an afterthought. But two of these new songs — “No Apologies” and “The More Things Change” are just awful songs. Cheesy, contrived, choose whatever words you like, they’re juvenile and awful and really don’t fit in among the classier hits. To me these are B-sides and perhaps should have been held back as B-sides.  Or just deleted completely.

Packaging is not the greatest. There are full songwriting and production credits, but they are arranged in such a way as to make finding information difficult. Performance credits are even harder to find — I couldn’t find bassists Hugh McDonald or Alec John Such’s names anywhere in the credits, and their pictures are also not included. There are a few more recent photos of the main four guys. No liner notes.

On the whole, despite the fact that I don’t really like the four new songs, I don’t regret this purchase. It’s going to be a great road CD. It is a good way to hear tunes like “We Weren’t Born To Follow” without listening to the album it came from, which I wasn’t too keen on. So, no regrets. I think most fans will like the album, they might even like the new songs.  Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom enjoyed it in the car and commented that she knew many of the songs.  Newcomers would be wise to pick this up as it has a great hit-per disc ratio!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Because We Can” (2013 Japanese single)

BWC

BON JOVI – “Because We Can” (2013 Island Records Japanese single)

There was a time I used to look forward to new releases by Bon Jovi.  It’s been a long time since I felt that way.  I thought the band bounced back (pun intended) with 2002’s Bounce, then they lost me immediately again with This Left Feels Right.  I don’t like to give up on bands that I used to feel strongly about, so I decided to check out Bon Jovi’s newest single, “Because We Can”.

I chose the Japanese single as it had one more track than the European.  I had not even heard the song yet.  It is written by Jon, Richie and songsmith Billy Falcon, produced by Jon and John Shanks.  (In other words, more of the same…)  The single came with a small 6-panel fold out poster and lyric booklet in English and Japanese.

The light glare completely erased Dave Bryan from this photo!

The light glare completely erased Dave Bryan from this photo!

Like many fans who have been hanging on long past Bon Jovi’s best before date, I found the song disappointing.  Rather than growing, it sounds like Bon Jovi are returning to the mainstream modern pop sounds of Have A Nice Day or even Lost Highway.  Bon Jovi’s never been the hardest rocking band, but they have written some great passionate rock songs in the past.  “Because We Can”, by title alone, should be in your face and proud of it.  Instead, it’s another faceless Pop Jovi song.  I’m going to write my own Pop Jovi song called “Who Says We Ain’t Strangers Tonight Because We Got It Goin’ On”.

I hate the chorus, it would be embarrassing to be caught singing this one.  There are some nice guitar licks flitting here and there, almost Brian May-like in sound, but barely audible.  Everything is buried under a thick blanket of backing vocals, plastic drums and electronic sounds.  You can barely make out Richie’s voice, and what passes for a guitar solo is really just a layered guitar melody.  At least the Japanese single comes with an instrumental version, which will allow you to hear Richie’s simple and sparing guitar.

The third and final track is a 7 minute live version of “Keep the Faith”, from 2010 in New Jersey.  Even this is slightly more laid back than the original 1992 version.  But at least it shows that Bon Jovi can write and play challenging material while keeping it accessible.   From the manic drum patterns to Richie’s smokin’ solo, this live version is everything that “Because We Can” should be.  Richie really shines on this track; I hope he comes back.  Bon Jovi without Richie ain’t Bon Jovi.

Based on this single, I won’t be buying the new album What About Now unless I find it cheap.

1.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – These Days (Special Edition)

Bought this at Encore Records for $10.

THESE DAYS FRONT

BON JOVI – These Days (Special Edition, 2010, Universal Music)

Just as a general comment on the series of Bon Jovi “Special Edition” remasters from 2010:  They’re crap.  Sorry but they are. A couple unreleased live tracks? That’s it? Come on.  They remastered these things 10 years ago and I bought them all then.  I’ve bought almost every Bon Jovi album, in some cases multiple times. These Days? Three times now, just to get all the bonus tracks scattered hither and yon.  For that reason these Bon Jovi remasters are in my $10 or less purchase range.

As for the album, These Days, I think it’s the best Bon Jovi album.  It’s definitely more laid back than any previous Jovi platter, but it has a genuine quality to it that I like.  You may like the cheesey 80’s keyboard sounds yourself, but in 1995 Bon Jovi couldn’t release an album like that.  Keep the Faith was a great success, but These Days took the band to a new, darker, more soulful place. The production, once overly glossy, has been reduced to a purer, more live sonic clarity. This is a very organic album and many tracks sound live off the floor, such as “Diamond Ring”.  Tico’s got a great drum sound on this album too, the snare has a great tonal quality.

Lyrically, Jon has never sounded more real and heartfelt. A song like “These Days” gets me right where it hurts every time. Unfortunately, the biggest hit from this album was the single “This Ain’t A Love Song”. Well, it may not be a love song, but it sure sounds a lot like others I’ve heard, like “Always”.  Contrasting the generic ballad were some heavier rockers.  “Hey God” is positively angry. “Damned” has swagger.  Bon Jovi are always melodic, but the chorus in the infectious “Something For The Pain” is just awesome. “If That’s What It Takes” and “Hearts Breaking Even” are memorable and as strong as any previous Bon Jovi hit, but sadly remained overlooked.  The quiet “(It’s Hard) Letting You Go” is one of Bon Jovi’s best ballads ever, because it’s so understated, with the actual vocal delivering the song.

The best song is the brilliant “Something To Believe In”. If I was going to pick one song as the absolute peak of Bon Jovi’s entire career, it could be this one (tied with “Dry County”). Driven by some sparse dark bass and piano, it soon picks up the pace. Richie’s backing vocals punctuate Jon’s powerful chorus beautifully, and you won’t be able to get that “Hey! hey! hey!” out of your head.

Yeah, I’m a sap.  I love this album!

I like Eddie Vedder best.

What really sets These Days apart are the sweet harmonies of Jon and Richie.  They’ve always done great work together vocally but These Days is a whole level beyond that.  If you are a fan of Richie Sambora, I think you will enjoy These Days.  In a very real sense I think this represents Sambora’s greatest contributions to Bon Jovi.

This new remastered edition has two live bonus tracks, which unfortunately are both ballads.  “This Ain’t A Love Song” is one, I guess because it was the hit single.  Shame they didn’t use “Hey God”.  “Diamond Ring” is the other live ballad.  This one was a bit of a cult song I guess.  They wrote it back in the days of New Jersey and almost released it, a few times.   It got bootlegged and became an underground favourite.  This live version is recorded in Italy.  It’s great to hear Jon and Richie singing together like this, but again, I wish they put on a rocker instead of a ballad.  Richie’s guitar solo is awesome though.

My preferred edition, which I will cover in a separate future review, is the European 2 disc edition.  In a beautiful magnetic digipack, it contained lots of bonus tracks:  “All I Want Is Everything”, “Bitter Wine”, “Fields Of Fire” (Demo), “I Thank You”, “Mrs. Robinson”, “Let’s Make It Baby” (Demo), “I Don’t Like Mondays”, “Crazy” (live, lead vocals by Tico Torres), “Tumblin’ Dice” (live, lead vocals by David Bryan), “Heaven Help Us All” (live, lead vocals by Richie Sambora).

There are other editions with bonus tracks, including an Australian edition with a live CD (this is on my “want” list).  There were plenty of singles, and I’ll cover each of those in future reviews as well, because they each contained notable bonus tracks.   One was a track called “Lonely At The Top”, which to me sounds like it’s about Frances Bean Cobain. It has the lyric, “Tell Frannie I’m sorry she didn’t get to know her dad.” There was even a (great) cover of “Rockin’ In The Free World”, as well as a cover of “634-5789”, which featured Jon cracking up and laughing right in the middle of a verse!

So there you go. Get this album, but buy wisely.  Choose an edition that suits your bonus track needs (or lack thereof).

5/5 stars for the album, -1 for this ripoff edition!

Below, pictures and tracklists for all the singles that I have from this album, as well as the Special Edition 2 CD set from 1996.  It was a digipack with a neat magnetic clasp to keep it closed.