I Heard a Million Bon Jovi Albums… And I Ranked ’Em All
Last month, it was announced Bon Jovi would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which begs the question more people should be asking: how the hell did they get there? How did a critically-derided band attain the greatest critical lifetime achievement award in rock and roll and become the de facto headliner of their induction ceremony? How did a hair metal band that scores of hair metal fans despise consistently play the largest venues in the new millennium of any hair metal band not containing both Axl Rose and Slash?
The answer to Bon Jovi’s surprising longevity is twofold:
B) Jon Bon Jovi’s pretty face.
Since these factors guaranteed the band would always get a consistently high turnout at live shows, vocalist Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Ritchie Sambora (replaced by Phil X in 2013), keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, and bassist Alec John Such (replaced by Hugh McDonald in 1994) were free to write whatever music they wanted, which led to some wonderfully weird works.
Before we dive into the highs and lows of Bon Jovi’s discography, take heed of a few warnings:
- Lactose intolerants beware: this band is pretty much made of cheese. If you don’t feel like constantly rolling your eyes or grading Bon Jovi’s lyrics on a curve, beware that Jon Bon Jovi is no Bob Dylan.
- Let the opening track be your guide. With some exceptions, Bon Jovi usually places the big single of every album in the first position. This essentially means that if you don’t like the first track, you probably don’t need to waste your time trying to find something better in the rest of the album.
- Bon Jovi is just a chameleon with big hair. If you’re looking for a crash course in rock trends from the mid-eighties onward, listen to Bon Jovi’s discography. Although Bon Jovi is most commonly associated with hair metal, almost every Bon Jovi album takes inspiration from a rock artist that was popular at the time of its release. Bon Jovi’s peak popularity may have coincided with that of hair metal, but after the genre died in the nineties Bon Jovi continued to draw inspiration from the rock fads of the day. I can almost guarantee that at least one band Bon Jovi took inspiration from on this list will surprise you. Bear in mind, the accuracy of the inspirations mentioned here does vary. Paradoxically, speaking of genres…
- I’m still going to call Bon Jovi hair metal even though they are not hair metal. There were many times when writing this when it was linguistically more efficient to refer to Bon Jovi’s genre. Since Bon Jovi’s genre changes from album to album, I settled on the genre that birthed the band and with which most people associate the band, even though you will find no shortage of hair metal fans who will stop at nothing to preserve the sanctity of their genre from a group that dared make it poppier.
- For the sake of my sanity, studio albums only. If it ain’t under the “Studio Albums” heading of Bon Jovi’s discography’s Wikipedia page, it ain’t on this list. Here’s the short version of everything I’ve missed: the live albums are representative of Bon Jovi’s solid live show, the greatest hits albums feature some great original tracks, the compilation albums have some gems, and lots of people hate the acoustic reworkings of the band’s hits on This Left Feels Right, but if you’ve ever wanted to hear “You Give Love a Bad Name” attempt to be a Clapton-Unplugged blues song feel free to give it a shot.
- Watch at your own risk. Many of the songs on here have official music videos. They’re not here because they’re bad. Like, REALLY bad. Think of the most cringeworthy way to showcase Bon Jovi you can. That’s the one Bon Jovi went with 95% of the time.
So with all that in mind, when should we start counting down Bon Jovi’s albums from worst to best? Let’s let the first album’s title provide us an answer…
13) What About Now (2013)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? Subdued “indie” rock has supplanted the more raucous pop punk of the earlier part of the new millennium. This poses a problem for Bon Jovi, as this genre(?) is, in many ways, the band’s opposite. Instead of the grandiosity that has characterized Bon Jovi since the hair metal days, minimalism is rewarded. Instead of making music to conquer the world, as Bon Jovi achieved and has attempted to replicate since Slippery When Wet, these indie-ish artists shirk attention and appear perfectly content with their dark corner of the musical landscape. Put simply, Bon Jovi is no Bon Iver. (Jovi is better. COME AT ME!) Bon Jovi has successfully entered alien realms in the past, but they need to emulate an artist who acts as a bridge between these two worlds.
Enter the atrociously-titled indie-pop band fun. Though they bear the appearance and some of the instrumentation of an average, generic, pretentious indie-rock band, fun. proclaims on “We Are Young” that they will “set the world on fire,” and their 2012 album Some Nights aimed to do exactly that. With singles that conquered the pop charts and served as grand gestures, they were a logical entry point for Bon Jovi.
Track 1: “Because We Can” is not a terrible song by any means and may even improve after repeated listens, but for a band that knows how to hook you into an album from the moment you press play it fails to make an impression. Jon Bon Jovi’s strength as a vocalist has always come from the passion with which he sings rather than his tonal range, making his layered vocals forming chords in an attempt to create his version of the intro to fun.’s “Some Nights” sound paradoxically flat. Ritchie Sambora remains conspicuously absent until a solo that ditches his normal showoffiness for minimalism that simply sounds lazy. (Which solo looks like it had more effort put into it? This? Or this?)
How’d the rest of the album turn out? What About Now is not conspicuously terrible. It doesn’t leap out of your speakers to loudly proclaim its awfulness in the same unintentionally hilarious and existentially fascinating way as Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu or Corey Feldman’s Angelic 2 the Core. However, an entertaining failure may have been preferable to the bland mush that comprises What About Now. The songs aren’t shot down in a blaze of glory; instead, they’re quite content to sit on the edge of tolerable where they give no reason for you to care about them.
Perhaps the only reason to get truly worked up about this album is the misuse of guitarist Ritchie Sambora. What About Now was Sambora’s final album before leaving Bon Jovi, and as the second-most important member of the band he deserved an exclamation point of an album to cap off his thirty years of service. Instead, he gets a comma, as if to create an incomplete thought. Ironically, the only Bon Jovi studio album to feature a guitar on its cover features the weakest guitar parts of the band’s career. As was the case with “Because We Can,” Sambora’s guitar licks range from barely perceptible to lethargic. Instead of celebrating his legacy, What About Now gives us reason to believe Sambora was correct to call it quits, and perhaps the rest of the band should do the same.
Recommendation: For completionists only. Only check this one out if you have listened to every other studio album as well the compilation albums and are still craving more Bon Jovi. Haters of fun. should stay far, far away. Fans should stick with fun.
12) 7800° Fahrenheit (1985)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? Hair metal is still in its heyday. Bands like Mötley Crüe are taking over the rock scene with their fun-loving flash and braggadocious bravado. After a phenomenal first single and debut album to back it up, Bon Jovi is looking to move up in the ranks.
Track 1: The biggest problem with Bon Jovi’s debut was it sounded too somber at times. “In and Out of Love” is thematically similar to many of the songs on its predecessor, in that it’s dealing with the dangers of love. However, the narrator has changed his attitude and is now having fun with it rather than moping around. It doesn’t come close to the leading single of its predecessor, but it’s a fun party song.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? The last time Bon Jovi played a song from 7800° Fahrenheit was almost eight years ago. The last time a song from 7800° Fahrenheit was on a regular tour rotation was twenty-five years ago. Bon Jovi has albums that are unfairly neglected in their live shows. 7800° Fahrenheit is not one of them. Although most of the songs on Bon Jovi’s sophomore effort have a decent amount of energy and none are really terrible, no songs stand out as exceptional except for maybe “In and Out of Love” and “Tokyo Road” if you’re in the right mood. Furthermore, the aforementioned sadness that plagued Bon Jovi’s last album returns from time to time and sounds much less inspired on this album now that the band seems capable of having a good time.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for more eighties Bon Jovi, this will do fine. Otherwise, there’s no reason to listen to 7800° Fahrenheit sooner rather than later.
11) This House Is Not for Sale (2016)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? In 2014, Foo Fighters debuted their eighth album, Sonic Highways. Although the album itself is overwhelmingly meh, the hype for it included an accompanying HBO miniseries and stadium tour where lead singer/rhythm guitarist Dave Grohl made a buzz for playing shows with a broken leg on a guitar-themed throne. Their classic rock-revivalism is giving the old guard of rock music, including Bon Jovi, hope that they are not completely irrelevant quite yet. After failing to conform to modern standards, Bon Jovi is looking to Foo Fighters’ latest guitar-laden and somewhat rootsy album for a template for a return to Lost Highway-style form.
Track 1: “This House Is Not for Sale” is a nearly flawless modern Bon Jovi single. On the surface it’s not doing anything too revolutionary; the band basically takes the chord progression of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and plays the hell out of it. However, as Bon Jovi confirmed a decade earlier with “Have a Nice Day,” that’s all you really need to make a great Bon Jovi song. Any doubts regarding the first Ritchie Sambora-less Bon Jovi album are instantly assuaged, as Phil X’s powerful chords and blistering solo are enough to make listeners question whether Sambora really left. “This House Is Not for Sale” set Bon Jovi up for their first home-run of the 2010’s, but unfortunately…
How’d the rest of the album turn out? …it wasn’t enough to keep the rest of This House Is Not for Sale from dragging. Like its predecessor What About Now, most of its tracks are not so much bad as dull. It’s clear there’s more effort put into making the songs active and energetic, but like Sonic Highways, the instrumentation and songwriting both feel far too unfocused at times. There’s not much more to say about these songs, except that it’s a shame the title track had no serious competitors.
Recommendation: Listen to the title track, not much else.
Update: The two new tracks released as an addendum to this album in February 2018 (“When We Were Us” and “Walls”) are decent but nothing to write home about. These songs’ most intriguing aspect, however, is where they appear in the tracklisting for the album’s re-release. Why place what are essentially bonus tracks at the very beginning of the album and shift the barn-burning opening number to an awkward third place in the lineup? It’s the most trivial of mysteries to be sure, but one I am certain will never cease to haunt me.
10) Bon Jovi (1984)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? Hair metal is hot, and it’s all thanks to Van Halen, who have defined the genre in its current form since their 1978 self-titled debut. A young John Bongiovi is enthralled by the scene and aims to take his place next to these legends with his own band. After changing his surname to something more Van Halen-esque (a three-letter word ending in “n” followed by a two-syllable word), Jon Bon Jovi and his band are ready to conquer the world with the help of a formidable first single…
Track 1: From the moment the opening synth riff rang out on “Runaway,” it was clear Bon Jovi was going places. This is a phenomenally tight song with zero wasted space. No part of the song lacks a catchy hook. Every instrument finds its own personality while simultaneously fitting in with its counterparts. “Runaway” has been eclipsed by bigger hits from this band and this decade, but it has more than earned its place in the pantheon of essential eighties music. (For fans of Stranger Things, it’s the song that plays when Eleven exits the bus in Chicago in Season 2.)
How’d the rest of the album turn out? Unfortunately, Bon Jovi can’t maintain the momentum of “Runaway” for the duration of their self-titled debut. Much of the album sounds dated and the production is relatively rough for a band that typically benefits from a decent amount of polish. However, the most damaging flaw may be that Bon Jovi sounds unhappy. With some major exceptions we’ll talk about later, Bon Jovi sounds best when having a good time. Taking after songs like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love” from Van Halen, Bon Jovi wrote many of their first songs from the perspective of a woeful lover, giving the album a darker feel reflected by its cover art. The melancholic atmosphere drags down several songs that otherwise have promising instrumental swagger. That being said, the album has its fair share of bright spots. When the band gets into a groove that can shine through the haze, you’re in for a good time on songs such as “Breakout,” “Come Back,” and “Get Ready.” None of them rival “Runaway,” but it would be surprising if any of them could at this early stage of Bon Jovi’s career. As an added bonus, Bon Jovi features some of Jon Bon Jovi’s most ambitious vocal parts. 7800° Fahrenheit might be a more consistent album, but Bon Jovi isn’t content to settle for consistency and, instead, reaches some awesome heights.
Recommendation: “Runaway” is essential; the rest not so much. Eighties and hair metal fans should check it out earlier than the rest. Casual listeners looking to dig deeper into Bon Jovi’s discography should check out a few albums further up on this list first.
9) Bounce (2002)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? Before you reflexively hurl your computer/phone at the nearest Canadian bystander when I name this next artist, please be aware that Bounce is a much better album than anything this aforementioned artist has produced. In 2001, Nickelback achieves mainstream success with their single “How You Remind Me.” The band sings emotionally, utilizes metal-ish guitar sounds, and throws in acoustic elements from time to time. For reasons we’ll get to shortly, Bon Jovi is looking for a darker, more emotionally visceral sound for their next album, and Nickelback’s post-grunge appeal seems to fit the bill and be popular enough. Just be glad Bon Jovi hasn’t decided to make a nu-metal album.
Track 1: There is a short list of musicians who are qualified and a long list of musicians who are unqualified to write songs about the horrifying tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001. Bon Jovi would have likely fallen into the latter category had it not been for their inextricable ties to New Jersey, the next-door neighbor of Ground Zero. Had Bon Jovi ignored a tragedy for which millions were still grieving that occurred in the city they called home and followed the light-hearted direction of 2000’s Crush, the band would have appeared at best out of touch and at worst incredibly unsympathetic. This left Bon Jovi in the unenviable position of tackling heavy subject matter far out of its league.
Fortunately, “Undivided” is a sign that Bon Jovi may be up for the task. Although the verses provide unnecessarily explicit details that feel uncomfortable coming from the mouth of Jon Bon Jovi, the choruses are catchy, exude all the right emotions, and preach a message of unity from shared tragedy.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? If I told you a hair metal band made an album about 9/11 that sounds kind of like Nickelback, you would likely assume it was a horrifically insensitive disaster, making it a minor miracle that Bounce not only doesn’t collapse under the weight of its subject matter but managed to produce some pretty good songs. A decent number of songs meander in their delivery but, for the most part, manage to stay clear of having offensive content. Anthems like “Undivided” and the title track find a good message about getting knocked down but getting back up again and keep the album energetic. Songs like “Misunderstood” provide a human touch to the tragedy in a similar way as the band’s New Jersey counterpart Bruce Springsteen accomplished on 2002’s The Rising. The lyrics, per usual, are not exactly poetry, but they are not a dumpster fire either. These were the most difficult circumstances Bon Jovi could have to write an album, and the band handled them as well as could be expected and then some.
Recommendation: Listening to a hair metal band tackle one of the most devastating events in American history will be difficult to stomach without preparing by getting used to their other material, especially some of the better serious albums. (Yes, those exist, and we’ll get to them.)
8) Have a Nice Day (2005)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? The latest iteration of emo-tinged pop-punk is rising in the pop charts. Avril Lavigne sings passionately about personal issues on singles that put the pop in pop-punk, while Green Day is experiencing a surprising revival thanks to their 2004 political rock opera American Idiot. In both cases, the music uses loud guitars, sometimes with acoustic touches, to attain an epic feel, one that Bon Jovi has chased on and off throughout its career up to this point.
Track 1: From the first glance at the album artwork’s simple symbolism and red and black color scheme, the American Idiot influence is clear. “Have a Nice Day” only furthers that impression, with big, booming guitars playing a riff made of simple chords over vaguely political lyrics. The approach works extremely well, and the song hasn’t left Bon Jovi’s setlists since it was released. The energetic anthem might be the greatest single Bon Jovi has released in the twenty-first century, giving the rest of Have a Nice Day a high bar to reach.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? After that firy first track, Have a Nice Day moves from Green Day to Avril Lavigne for the majority of its tracks’ primary influence. The subject matter shifts from political to personal and acoustic guitars are applied more liberally. The tracks aim for epic, and some tracks, such as “I Want to Be Loved” and “Wildflower,” attain their aspirations. Regrettably, too many others sound like the band is trying so hard to be taken seriously that it is impossible to do so, including “Bells of Freedom” and “Complicated.” Although the lyrics are often too corny even by Bon Jovi’s standards, the instrumentals are still on point, and the album offers a lot to enjoy. One particular song called “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” received a particularly warm welcome that would play a major role in shaping their next album…
Recommendation: The title track is a must. This shouldn’t be the first or second Bon Jovi album you hear, but maybe the third or fourth if you’re looking for more modern material.
7) Slippery When Wet (1986)
What’s happening in rock music nowadays? Hair metal hurries onward. Though not born in the genre, Journey have adequately adapted and continue to chug out pop hits. Bon Jovi have only been able to go so far as hair metal purists and see a need to infuse greater pop sensibilities into their songs if the band is going to stand out. One particular song, 1981’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” may be of interest, as this uplifting anthem about a working-class couple that persists despite tough times has gained enough popularity to be overplayed to eternity. If that kind of a song can work for Journey, why can’t it work the same way for Bon Jovi?
Track 1: Slippery When Wet is one of the few Bon Jovi albums that doesn’t put its best foot forward on the first track. That being said, “Let It Rock” is by no means a bad song. It may not be a standout track on Slippery When Wet (and it’s certainly not the worst song with its name), but then again the standout tracks of this album are THE standout tracks of Bon Jovi’s entire career. “Let It Rock” primarily serves as an introduction to get you hyped for the legendary singles you know are coming. On its own, it’s a fun party song that seems like a better version of a 7800° Fahrenheit tune, proving that the band have finally learned how to have fun without somber caveats.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? If you had heard of Bon Jovi before reading this ranking, Slippery When Wet is the reason. Bon Jovi could have released no other songs besides “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and they would still be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For that matter, Bon Jovi would still be packing large venues to this day if the only song they ever released was “Livin’ on a Prayer,” both for good reason. The euphoric chorus of “Livin’ on a Prayer” will be forever burned into the popular musical canon (as well as find a second life as a minor meme), the acoustic guitars that gave “Wanted Dead or Alive” its character opened far more musical pathways than hair metal could provide, and the opening shout of “You Give Love a Bad Name” made every Bon Jovi fan forget the band had released a completely different song called “Shot Through the Heart.”
As far as the singles go, Slippery When Wet is bulletproof. So how do the other tracks hold up? Essentially, the rest of this album is a better version of its predecessors, infusing their hair metal origins with a pop edge and ditching lovesick motifs for a fun-loving attitude. Even though most of these tracks are fairly inessential, it’s clear that Slippery When Wet was the moment Bon Jovi found their groove and knew they were unstoppable.
Recommendation: If you haven’t yet heard “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” or “You Give Love a Bad Name,” emerge from the bunker you’ve been hiding in for the past three decades and give them a listen when you need consolation for how messed up the world you woke up to is. Give the rest of the album a whirl if you’re looking for some solid pop-hair metal.
6) New Jersey (1988)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? BRUUUUUUUCEEEEEE. 1985’s Born in the U.S.A. helped Bruce Springsteen graduate from classic rock staple to pop superstar. Never again would an arena have seats available for a Springsteen show, especially now that Born in the U.S.A. had generated an almost scary number of hits. Following their own hit album, Bon Jovi were constantly compared to the boss of E Street, despite having not much in common besides being from New Jersey and “Livin’ on a Prayer” briefly addressing working class troubles. However, Bon Jovi is not a band that argues with a good thing, and being compared to one of the biggest rock and roll stars of all time certainly qualifies. Time to get rootsy!
Track 1: Bon Jovi has had stronger album openers, but “Lay Your Hands on Me” is certainly a good way to get excited about listening to the rest of the album. With a sparse buildup leading up to a chant designed to erupt in arenas, the track doesn’t show much of the band’s new rootsy side but is still a great staple of its eighties work.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? If you’re looking for a single that rivals those of Bon Jovi’s previous album, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The reason New Jersey beats Slippery When Wet in this ranking is for the rest of the album. Slippery When Wet had phenomenal standout tracks to be sure, but New Jersey cuts the filler that plagued its predecessor and presents a much more consistent listening experience overall. Now that Bon Jovi have become comfortable with who they are as a band, they seem to have no trouble cranking out songs that could almost all serve as a lead single. After seeing what the band would later achieve in other genres, it’s fitting that Bon Jovi’s best work of the eighties came as the rest of their hair metal peers were beginning to falter.
Recommendation: If you’re interested in Bon Jovi’s eighties period, it doesn’t get better than this.
5) The Circle (2009)
What’s happening in rock music nowadays? U2 is back with No Line on the Horizon, their first studio album in five years. Although nobody will claim the album itself is one of U2’s best, No Line on the Horizon and the hype surrounding it reminds many people, including the members of Bon Jovi, of what made U2 legendary. Taking a break from chasing modern rock trends, Bon Jovi attempts to ascend to a higher pedestal by following fellow eighties hitmakers. From Ritchie Sambora Edge-ifying his guitar tone to the band naming its album after a 2-D geometric feature, Bon Jovi remodels itself after U2 in many ways. Most disconcertingly, Bon Jovi adopts U2’s sense of self-importance and focuses on relating songs to real-life struggles. All logic would say you should be very worried about the direction The Circle is heading.
Track 1: “We Weren’t Born to Follow” is, once again, another strong opener and lead single, but in a different way from most Bon Jovi albums in that it restrains itself. Compared to explosions like “Have a Nice Day” and “This House Is Not for Sale,” the song seems downright tame. However, it happens to be one of the more energetic songs on one of their most subdued albums. The U2 influence is evident from the moment Sambora’s layered, echoing guitar starts the song and Jon Bon Jovi sings the Joshua Tree-lite opening lyric “This one goes out to the man who mines for miracles.” In a rare feat for the group, Bon Jovi manages to inspire and excite without raising its voice.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? It’s good! Surprisingly, it’s actually really good! The band might sound sonically similar to U2, but The Circle owes most of its success to a different influence: Barack Obama. (Fair warning, this gets political.) Singing about depressingly serious issues has the potential to drag down a band as fun-loving as Bon Jovi, but in 2009 President Obama provided the secret ingredient the band needed: hope. Every issue Bon Jovi addressed was lightened by the feeling shared by many Americans that change was on its way and their future was in good hands. (Damn, it’s really depressing writing this in 2018.) Singing about sorrows transforms into a positive, sometimes even joyous affair when infused with the hope that we can rise above them and better times are ahead. The band stays strong instrumentally, as Ritchie Sambora’s new effects nicely compliment his playing style. The Circle is a subdued album to be sure, but it’s a quietly invigorating one as well.
Recommendation: You’re going to want to acclimate yourself to Bon Jovi’s corniness before hearing them try to be meaningful, but once you do listening to this album will be well worth your time.
4) Lost Highway (2007)
What’s happening in rock music nowadays? Throughout the new millennium, country music has been undergoing changes to endear it to a modern music landscape. Before Taylor Swift and bro-country would each rewrite the standards for what kind of country can cross over to the mainstream, the Dixie Chicks are riding high thanks to the success of their 2006 smash hit album Taking the Long Way. The album receives massive critical acclaim thanks to the accessibility of its songs, which abandons the band’s previous bluegrass flair in favor of more mainstream songwriting styles bolstered by traditionally country instrumentation. Bon Jovi found a minor hit by creating a country version of one of their most recent album’s tracks, and the gap between country and rock ain’t as wide as it used to be, so why not make an entire album in that style?
Track 1: You’ll have a hard time convincing yourself that Bon Jovi wasn’t always a country-rock band after listening to “Lost Highway.” This nearly perfect road trip tune presents the band fitting shockingly well into their newly chosen genre. The song pulsates forward with a comfortable yet indomitable groove that seems to be borrowed from Taking the Long Way’s title track. Once again, Bon Jovi hits it out of the park with their album opener, and the momentum doesn’t stop here…
How’d the rest of the album turn out? In 1983, it was unfathomable that a hair metal band from New Jersey attempting to emulate other hair metal bands from California would ever make a country album. It was even more unfathomable that it would be any good. However, from the moment Jon Bon Jovi called himself a cowboy on “Wanted Dead or Alive,” the possibility grew increasingly more likely until in 2007 country-rock seemed like the next logical step in their musical progression.
Lost Highway surprisingly finds Bon Jovi well within its comfort zone. The steel guitar and violin fit in with the band’s style, and love and fun are two subjects that make for both great country and great Bon Jovi tunes. The band sounds like it’s having a having a blast making this record, and the feeling is contagious for many listeners.
Recommendation: Fair warning: a lot of people HATE this album. From what I can tell, the primary reason is that this album is pop-country with a capital POP, and there is an increasingly large number of people who “like all music except country” nowadays. However, as someone who is constantly exposed to modern, mainstream, bro-country artists like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean and (put politely) does not particularly care for them, I’ll personally attest that Lost Highway is a different animal from a time when pop-country was more creatively rich. If you have any interest in some solid pop-rock tunes with a southern twang, I would approach this album with cautious optimism.
3) Crush (2000)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? The early nineties may have been characterized by darkness, but the latter part of the decade has lightened up considerably. In the wake of grunge’s unlikely success, the rush to find the next hot rock subgenre has yielded lighter categories such as skate punk, third-wave ska, Smash Mouth, and britpop. From the latter genre comes Oasis, a band reminiscent of The Beatles in both musical style and popularity. All this bodes well for Bon Jovi, who are more comfortable with positivity and are looking for acceptance as elder statesmen.
Track 1: Love it or hate it (and there are many who fall on both sides of that debate), “It’s My Life” is the reason Bon Jovi has stuck around so prominently in the new millennium. The song proved that the band’s age didn’t preclude them from staying relevant. Most who despise this song call it a shallow remake of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” This assessment is not entirely inaccurate, as “It’s My Life” bears plenty of similarities to Bon Jovi’s greatest hit and certainly does not reach the same heights. That being said, on its own merits the song can be quite enjoyable. Though its value diminishes when replayed too often, this was clearly designed to be a tight pop song, and, as such, has a good chance of hitting its mark at least a few times. Even so, if you still despise “It’s My Life,” the quality of this song is not representative of the album that follows it…
How’d the rest of the album turn out? The best frame of mind to listen to Crush through is that of its title. It’s lighthearted, quirky, and, at times, overdramatic, but the stakes never feel too high, much like a teenage crush. Crush is an attempt to reboot Bon Jovi for a new era, and it succeeds tremendously well. Although changes are made to modernize the album’s sound (for example, synths are ditched in favor of strings), the heart of Bon Jovi’s appeal as a band that wants to help you have a good time remains fully intact. The band seems reinvigorated and fully within their comfort zone for the first time in more than a decade resulting in some truly staggering high points, including “Next 100 Years,” an epic that builds up to Ritchie Sambora’s best recorded guitar solo. Some songs may meander at points, but the great moments far outweigh the below average. If Crush was Bon Jovi’s application for relevance in a new millennium, the band more than deserves to be admitted.
Recommendation: If you bear in mind this is meant to be more than a bit cheesy, I’d say you’ll probably have a really good time with Crush!
2) Keep the Faith (1992)
What’s happening in rock nowadays? Hair metal is in trouble. A new cadre of grunge artists have been climbing the charts, making a big show of the demise of eighties excess. However, not everyone in the old guard has given up hope. With their 1991 duology of Use Your Illusion albums, Guns ’N’ Roses has created the grand gesture to end all grand gestures, making the most compelling argument that classic rock as we knew it could survive the nineties. As one of the final massively successful hair metal acts to emerge in the eighties, Guns ’N’ Roses makes sense as a target for Bon Jovi to emulate. Guns ’N’ Roses’ sound may be rawer than Bon Jovi’s has been, but the two bands are united in a common purpose to help the genre that birthed them survive the next decade.
Track 1: Subtlety has never been Bon Jovi’s strong suit. Once you are aware of the metanarrative of keeping hair metal alive, “I Believe” seems to be screaming at you that Bon Jovi believes in its genre’s ability to last. However, a message does not need to be subtle to be effective. The song’s passion makes you want to believe Bon Jovi’s optimism is more than warranted, despite knowing in hindsight what musical trends prevailed. There are bigger hits on Keep the Faith, but “I Believe” still excels as a fitting hook.
How’d the rest of the album turn out? As an argument for the viability of classic rock tropes beyond the eighties, it’s a damn good one. Most songs on Keep the Faith are Guns ’N’ Roses-indebted, blues-rock boogies that assert the merits of having a good time in an era where darkness makes music feel more “real,” and their desperate positivity is contagious. “Dry County” clocks in at almost ten minutes and reaches for (and comes close to attaining) the epic heights of Guns ’N’ Roses’ “November Rain.” “In These Arms” may seem like a classic Bon Jovi power ballad at first glance, but compared to when Bon Jovi claimed the subject of their affections was “born to be my baby” on New Jersey, the band is much more uncertain, trying to convince its love that only good things would happen “if you were in these arms tonight.” That desperation for their audience to love them as they once did is what makes this such a great effort from Bon Jovi. Knowing that they have lost any margin for error in unfriendly, unfamiliar times, the band put everything they had into Keep the Faith, and it shows.
Recommendation: This album has all the perks of Bon Jovi’s eighties material without sounding as dated, and, therefore, is a great one to begin your journey into Bon Jovi’s full albums.
1) These Days (1995)
What’s happening in rock these days? Hair metal is dead; long live grunge. The flamboyant bands that ruled the eighties now find themselves frantically trying to “grungify” by toning down their appearance (read: making themselves bland) and trying to write about serious stuff (read: forgetting how to have fun). However, within the current darkness and disdain for excess that consumes rock music, there is proof that not all classic rock grandiosity goes unappreciated, and that proof’s name is Pearl Jam. With songs like “Alive” that sound tailor-made for arenas, Pearl Jam proves that old rock tropes have their place in grunge. The Seattle outfit’s songs may be darker than what Bon Jovi is accustomed to, but in a musical landscape where their genre is culturally six feet under, the New Jersey rockers are looking to cling onto anything familiar.
Track 1: Bon Jovi have always had the label of hair metal or glam metal hovering over them, but never before has the band sounded as heavy-metal as on the opening drop-D chord of “Hey God.” The song’s intro sounds nothing like any Bon Jovi song that came before it. Even when Jon Bon Jovi’s familiar voice enters, it carries an emotion rarely expressed in Bon Jovi’s career: anger. Usually Bon Jovi’s most energetic songs are rejoicing, whereas “Hey God” thunders into being with pure rage. Pearl Jam’s influence is evident, as it isn’t hard to imagine Eddie Vedder screaming the same lines Jon Bon Jovi does over the same unrestrained instrumental. “Hey God” starts the album off right by catching listeners off guard in a quite pleasant way, and there is much more where that came from…
How’d the rest of the album turn out? Want to hear some thing crazy about These Days? On the title track Jon Bon Jovi references Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. Want to hear something even crazier? It kind of works.
These Days is Bon Jovi’s darkest album by a long shot. Bounce may have been about far darker subject matter, but several of its songs encouraged people to rise up. The band’s first two albums were more morose than they needed to be, but in a lovesick kind of way that seemed meant to be taken lightly. For most of These Days, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Anyone who has ever played Shadow the Hedgehog can confirm that taking a light-hearted, fun-loving property and injecting it with darkness usually results in disaster, making it all the more unbelievable that Bon Jovi’s most depressed album is also the band’s best.
The songwriting is full of inventive hooks. Jon Bon Jovi screams in a way he wouldn’t repeat for the rest of his career, selling an unlikely mood for the band. Ritchie Sambora ditches the flash of typical pop-metal guitar solos to demonstrate his considerable chops under more lean circumstances. David Bryan makes the final prominent appearance of eighties synths in Bon Jovi’s catalogue a memorable one, keeping them quiet yet haunting to the benefit of songs like “(It’s Hard) Letting You Go.” Hugh McDonald makes you forget Bon Jovi lost a member by delivering what is possibly the band’s greatest bass-work on “Something to Believe In,” an incredible song that also reminds us that drummer Tico Torres is more than just a background player.
Let’s wrap this up by revisiting that Kurt Cobain reference. Here’s the line in question, in which a character who attempted suicide is mourning how “all [his] heroes” are dead:
“I guess I’d rather die than f-f-fade away.”
It cautions against the influence the darkness of grunge has had but also cements Bon Jovi’s legacy. In one line, Bon Jovi quotes the frontman of Nirvana quoting Neil Young’s “(My My, Hey Hey) Out of the Blue” and, with a single stutter, adds an allusion to one of The Who’s breakthrough hits, “My Generation.” On any other album, Bon Jovi would be accused of standing on the shoulders of giants. On These Days, Bon Jovi can comfortably stand side by side with the titans of rock.
Recommendation: This album won’t be what you expect if you enter it anticipating eighties pop-hair metal. However, if you have doubts the stereotypical image of Bon Jovi is your type of music, These Days is one of the best ways to open your mind to the wonders of which this band might be capable.