Something for the Pain

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 – 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.