Inspired by their mutual love of the INXS record Kick, Matt and Jeff have decided to take another listen to their favorite classic and forgotten records from the 80s. This is the Faith Project, and it is 100% guaranteed to contain absolutely no analysis of George Michael’s Faith.
New Jersey was the first CD I ever owned. I won it in a radio contest in the summer of 1989. I was the right caller. I wrote down the previous night’s top twenty and recited it back to the DJ. I didn’t have a CD player then. My parents didn’t have a CD player. I went to the neighbor’s to listen to it because they had one. I listened to it a lot for not having any way to play it back myself.
So I was expecting this one to sound like the summer of ’89 all over again, which maybe it does. It’s just that summer is a lot cheesier than I remember it being. Which, why is this a surprise? It was middle school. I liked a lot of cornball Top 40 hair metal in middle school. Slaughter, anyone? But Bon Jovi had to have been doing something right in the late ’80′s because they’re still around and literally everyone from that era isn’t. I am not counting Brett Michael’s second career as being “still around.”
So what did they do right? Well, they found a way to make hair metal less about the metal and more about the pop rock, more so than any of their contemporaries. Nobody was confusing them with Judas Priest. They had a charming and versatile front man who could also sort of act—and I don’t believe I’ve seen David Coverdale make a cameo on 30 Rock yet. They hired Desmond Child to write their hits. And they never took themselves terribly seriously.
Critics like to say all Jon Bon Jovi ever wanted was to be Bruce Springsteen, but I think they’re being presumptuous. If Springsteen is The Wire of television police dramas, then Bon Jovi is CSI: Baltimore. It’s the same city, but the storylines and characters aren’t nearly as deep and are at times caricature of themselves. Springsteen never sang about Sahara Jack and Suntan Sally or how “Señorita Margarita…make you feel alright.”
Bon Jovi doesn’t ever dwell in longing or regret, even if their songs tend toward working class themes. They’re interested in the feeling you have at the bar after you’ve had a few drinks to push that crap out of your mind and enjoy yourself with your friends. They’re just not pretentious in the least. And why should they be? Wouldn’t you rather cheer along for the kids who’re living on a prayer than rake up the graves of the Vietnam war? This is why Slippery When Wet outsold everything else in 1987.
So they followed that up with New Jersey and they brought back Mr. Child and I remember enjoying it repeatedly in my youth, but this time it wasn’t at all like pulling Kick off the shelf. It has none of the freshness and ingenuity of that album. It’s wall to wall arena anthems full of na-na-nas and (all night)s because it’s (alright). That’s not to say there isn’t good songwriting in there or that you couldn’t put it on at a party at the beach. It’s just all craftsmanship and very little originality and I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of corporate rock. If it were a novel, it would have puffy print on its cover.
Desmond Child: The Sixth Jovi Brother
Is that so bad? Not if you’re in the mood for it. Nothing on this album is cringe-inducing. There are no raps. There’s no terrible foray into weirdness. They flirt a little with country rock, but they’re all good enough musicians that you hardly notice. The power ballads are all where they should be, even the one that wasn’t written by Child and still managed to chart. But I’m not going to pick it up again the way I did for weeks after we wrote about Kick. It no longer resonates with me the way it did when I was a kid.
Maybe this is best illustrated by the highly illuminating karaoke test: when people turn to the Bon Jovi page in the songbooks, is anyone choosing “Bad Medicine” over “Dead or Alive?” I didn’t think so.
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