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Bon Jovi

+ {Jon Bon Jovi}

Led by pretty-boy poodle-rocker Jon Bon Jovi, pseudo pop-metal stars BON JOVI have been dishing out their bland blend of corporate rock for three full decades. Taking the New Jersey spirit and roots laid down by “The Boss” BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, arena-rock was never more exemplified when the hair-metal quartet delivered their mid-80s magnum opus, “Slippery When Wet”, a record spawning at least three trademark 45s in `You Give Love A Bad Name’, `Livin’ On A Prayer’ and `Wanted Dead Or Alive’; they’ve since never faltered on a commercial level and have sold over 100 million albums in the States alone.
Formed in Sayreville, NJ in the spring of ‘83, namesake singer Jon Bongiovi and keyboard player David Bryan were soon joined by bassist Alec John Such, seasoned drummer Tico Torres and future SKID ROW axeman Dave Sabo. Gaining a toehold on the music business ladder by helping out at his cousin’s recording studio, Jon found time to cut a rough demo of `Runaway’, a record which subsequently gained airplay after being featured on a local various artists compilation. A line-up that would remain stable throughout BON JOVI’s career was soon established – top-notch guitarist Richie Sambora displacing Sabo – and, by the summer of 1983, the 5-piece band had signed a worldwide deal with Mercury Records.
At first generally derided by critics for their formulaic, glossy pop-metal content, both the eponymous BON JOVI (1984) {*6} and 7800 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT (1985) {*5} sold in respectable quantities for a freshman rock act. Very much in the style of JOURNEY and/or FOREIGNER, the aforementioned `Runaway’, `She Don’t Know Me’ and `Only Lonely’ all positioned them well in the singles charts, but their melodious metal was hardly ground-breaking or hook-tastic.
At this point, BON JOVI were just another name in an endless sea of wet-permed “hair” bands on the hard-rock circuit and no one was quite expecting the splash that SLIPPERY WHEN WET {*9} would make upon its release in 1986. Preceded by the squalling riff and anthemic chorus of `You Give Love A Bad Name’, the chart-scaling album was heavy metal (in the broadest possible sense) for people who didn’t like heavy metal (housewives, junior schoolgirls, construction workers, etc.). `Livin’ On A Prayer’ followed a similar path to the top of the charts; a hard bitten tale of love on the breadline – rather ironic considering the moolah rolling into BON JOVI’s coffers – that featured what must rank as one of the most bombastic choruses in the history of rock.
Elsewhere on the record, the production loomed equally large and the songs were relentlessly hook-laden, with just enough edge to convince “real” rock fans that the band hadn’t sold out. `Wanted Dead Or Alive’ marked the beginning of Jon’s cowboy fantasies while `I’d Die For You’ and `Never Say Goodbye’ were the obligatory “sensitive” numbers. The album’s success was partly down to the band hiring soft rock songsmith extraordinaire, DESMOND CHILD, whose unerringly catchy way with a tune saw the album going on to sell millions.
BON JOVI were at the top of their career already, headlining the Monsters Of Rock shows in Britain and Europe. No doubt feeling more confident about his songwriting abilities, Jon followed a more SPRINGSTEEN-esque direction on NEW JERSEY (1988) {*7}; more rock, less metal, while still retaining the spotless production and impeccable hooks. With `Born To Be My Baby’, `Bad Medicine’, `Living In Sin’, `Lay Your Hands On Me’ and `I’ll Be There For You’ all Top 10 breakers, `Blood On Blood’ (the title taken from SPRINGSTEEN’s “Highway Patrolman”, perchance?) and `Wild Is The Wind’, were also reassuringly strident, the multi-platinum album again selling in mindboggling quantities.
In many ways, JON BON JOVI is Bon Jovi, so when Jon-boy released his BLAZE OF GLORY (1990) {*4} solo effort (a result of his “pit-part” acting role in Western sequel, Young Guns II), it was a case of more of the same. Incidentally, Jon’s rather large female following were in shock when he wed childhood sweetheart Dorothea Hurley in April ’89; they now have four children and will soon celebrate their silver anniversary.
Musically, the album didn’t not stray far from the power ballad/epic rock templates that the ‘Jovi followed so faithfully at the peak of their big haired power era, save for a dash of C&W sounds. Think bad pirate copies of `Wanted (Dead Or Alive)’. The title track, `Blaze Of Glory’, reached number 1 in the US, as well as landing the singer a Grammy nomination, and deservedly so because, taken individually, this anthemic battle-cry is his group (albeit with session players) at his lung bursting, pompous best. Unfortunately, most of the other material on offer sounds like BOG’s poor cousins, and collectively they suffocate the stand out track. Packed full of Western clichés, with an overkill of slide guitar and references to sleeping under the stars (good versus evil, God, death, whiskey, and of course, guns, lots and lots of guns), if tumbleweed had a sound it’d have been aboard. A few friends were dragged along to try and lend some credibility to the proceedings. JEFF BECK laid down guitar solos on most of the tracks, which are good but one doesn’t get the feeling he has had to try very hard. The same could be said for ELTON JOHN, who featured on two tracks, `Billy Get Your Gun’ and `Dyin’ Ain’t Much Of A Living’, playing piano on both and lending vocals to the latter. LITTLE RICHARD made a cameo appearance on `You Really Got Me Now’, the only other song on the album worthy of mention, with vocals and a ragtime piano shot straight out of a bourbon-soaked saloon. To maintain his profile, the blues-driven RICHIE SAMBORA released his top-notch solo set, `Stranger In This Town’ (1991), proving the man could outshine his posturing partner.
When BON JOVI re-emerged in 1992 with KEEP THE FAITH {*6}, there was no question of the album failing to scale the heights of its predecessors. The songs were intact although the likes of `I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’, `In These Arms’, `Bed Of Roses’ and the title track hit were verging on self-parody. Needless to say, subsequent compilation, CROSS ROAD: THE BEST OF BON JOVI (1994) {*9}, sold by the bucket-load. Without much of a bang or a whimper, Such bailed from the band; his position was filled by auxiliary member, Hugh McDonald.
Group album number six, (THESE DAYS) (1995) {*6} fared better in Britain where it scaled the charts. Contemporary and riddled with too many blue-collar love ballads (including hits `This Ain’t A Love Song’, `Something For The Pain’ and `Lie To Me’), real rawk fans were almost treated with contempt and neglect. While the band continued to win the hearts of coffee-table browsers the world over, most metal fans were losing interest.
Something of a celeb in these days with his short(er) hair, pseudo-trendy image and acting career, JON BON JOVI completed his own short film and accompanying soundtrack (he’d previously made his acting debut proper in the 1996 film, Moonlight And Valentino). In fact the man could do no wrong, going on to have further major chart success with his DESTINATION ANYWHERE (1997) {*6} solo set and its attendant UK Top 5 single, `Midnight In Chelsea’; the singer even turned up on Chris Evans’ TFI Friday with a rough ’n’ ready cover of SIMON & GARFUNKEL’s `Mrs. Robinson’. One would say he was too late to be a LEMONHEAD. On the other side of the domestic spectrum, RICHIE SAMBORA (who released his second solo album in 1998: Undiscovered Soul’), married top actress Heather Locklear in December 1994; they had one child but divorced in April 2007. Torres, too, tied the knot; to supermodel Eva Herzigova in September ’96; they divorced nearly two years later; he’s now married to Maria Alejandra Marquez (from 2001) and they have one child.
BON JOVI the band, meanwhile, returned in spring ‘99 with a one-off hit single, `Real Life’. Searching for a fresh angle, CRUSH (2000) {*6}, displayed their usual catchy pop-metal rhythms, although this time they sourced out Swedish-born hit-maker Max Martin (BRITNEY, *NSYNC, The BACKSTREET BOYS, et al), to collaborate on major smash, `It’s My Life’; Billy Falcon was another who lent a hand to the album’s best songs, `Say It Isn’t So’ and `Just Older’. Apart from the fact that Jon seemed to be immune by the ageing process, the band’s sound was even more mainstream than before, while previously undetectable influences from British 60s/70s glam-pop were apparent; example `Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen From Mars’, `I Got The Girl’ and `One Wild Night’. As if to prove they could still rock it like a proverbial mother, the veterans duly released the ONE WILD NIGHT: LIVE 1985-2001 {*7} “greatest hits” live set.
Unfortunately, they rocked out just a little too much on the self-conscious transatlantic Top 30 set, BOUNCE (2002) {*4}; its title something of a misnomer for so turgid an album. Unadvised forays into social commentary and an inexplicable absence of their trademark melodic gusto left something of an anaemic aftertaste. Still, `Everyday’, `Misunderstood’ and `All About Lovin’ You’, gave them major British hits, although only the US Mainstream Rock charts would give the band solace.
Almost as uninspired, or perhaps even more so, was 2003’s THIS LEFT FEELS RIGHT {*3}, a rather pointless set of re-workings running the breadth of their career but failing to point the way to the future. Tastefully executed and designed to fit within the boundaries of their ageing audience’s comfort zone, the songs nevertheless sounded glaringly out of context. HAVE A NICE DAY (2005) {*5} suggested BON JOVI’s mainman was unhappier than ever with the world. Always an unlikely protest singer, his dig at American politics were necessarily framed in the kind of smoulderingly familiar arrangements that made the message harder to hit home. The US election-bashing title track lingered with uncertainty outside the Billboard Top 40, although they did break the British Top 20 with the anthemically pointless `Welcome To Wherever You Are’. JBJ referenced his hero’s hero (DYLAN via SPRINGSTEEN) with `Bells Of Freedom’, while his engaging Grammy-winning duet (for Best Country Collaboration) with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles on `Who Says You Can’t Go Home’, hit the US Top 30.
Country artists LeANN RIMES and BIG & RICH were invited on board for BON JOVI’s next contemporary crossover venture, LOST HIGHWAY (2007) {*5}; the title at least suggesting their love of the great HANK WILLIAMS nugget without covering the actual C&W ballad itself. On the road to middle America via the odd rock truck-stop or three, Jon, Richie and Co put their put feet down hard on the pedal, a steely one they’d avoided in all their time as star attractions. If one’s adverse to a bit of GARTH BROOKS or TIM McGRAW, only the likes of `We Got It Going On’ and `Everybody’s Broken’ will keep one thinking that BON JOVI are a bona fide rock band.
Although the stadium fillers still manage to scale the charts, THE CIRCLE (2009) {*4}, was yet another album to alienate the critics. Again augmented by producer John Shanks and stalwart co-scribe, DESMOND CHILD, the cynical BON JOVI were running on empty. Loyal fans might disagree if comparing the band with only snippets of rock acts surrounding them, but tracks such as `We Weren’t Born To Follow’ (and The BYRDS were?), `When We Were Beautiful’ and the recession-referenced `Work For The Working Man’, were just “Livin’ On A Prayer”. U2, they were not.
GREATEST HITS: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION (2010) {*8} – featuring two newbies, `What Do You Got?’ and `No Apologies’ – kept their own wolf from the door, while SAMBORA delivered his third solo album, `Aftermath Of The Lowdown’ (2012). In comparison to recent BON JOVI records, Richie’s comeback record was essential for wayward fans and, although his sound was close to AEROSMITH fronted by BOWIE or SPRINGSTEEN (check out `Weathering The Storm’ and `Every Road Leads Home To You’, respectively), the guitar hero landed firmly on today’s rock terra firma, rather than searching for something outwith his comfort zone.
It seemed anticipation and longing were the keys to unlocking the doors to success as album number something or other, WHAT ABOUT NOW (2013) {*4}, hit pay-dirt once again (and the top of the charts) despite a multitude of poor reviews. It’s always good to hear the progress and diversity of BON JOVI, and this album saw none of it as it attempted to push the right jingo-istic buttons of politics, faith and hope; getting through the tough times were the group’s message to the people. Loaded anthems came thick ’n’ fast through `Because We Can’, `Army Of One’ and `The Fighter’, and all were defiantly in the “Born In The USA” mould, although coming from a rich-boy standpoint, it preached only to the converted or the fickle middle-class.
A title to depict its Sambora-less status (the guitarist stuck in an avoidable limbo and replaced by Phil X), BURNING BRIDGES (2015) {*4} was a stop-gap Top 3 set that allowed the “fans” to select the tracks themselves. Unfinished rock symphonies that underwent a fresh facelift, a tamed arena rock BON JOVI went through the motions on the likes of catchy power-ballads `We Don’t Run’, `A Teardrop To The Sea’, `Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning’ et al. Who knows if Jon and Co will succeed when they pop out another set in the new year.
Re-investing in contemporary-rock real estate by way of umpteenth set, THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE (2016) {*6}, the record was not as objective as the title suggested. Harking back to his “Have A Nice Day” times rather than the 80s era and with metallic muses all around to complement any blunted SPRINGSTEEN-esque edges, sales figures might not have gone through the roof – so to speak – but long-term subscribers deemed it a success. Producer John Shanks was probably the difference, and once again Jon Bon was free of a certain solo Sambora gate-crashing the party. The title track opener, plus `Living With The Ghost’ and `God Bless This Mess’, needed no refurbishment in this ready-for-market proposition, and although the jovial Jon got up the turned-up noses of Trump for supporting Hillary on her “staged” mission to become leader of the US of A, one prayed the man still had a future in DT’s semi-detached new world order come January 20.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/BG-GRD/CM-LCS // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Nov2016

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