Hello Glancers! It’s time once again to turn back the clock to that hallowed period of the dying embers of the 20th Century, a time when men stapled poodles to their scalps and shoved rats down their drawers, both for that authentic size-enhanced look. After two extremely forgettable, lackluster albums, it was make or break time for JBJ and the boys. Looking for a more mainstream approach, the boys sought out songwriter Desmond Child and in the space of a few months they had written and recorded the monster they wanted. While I can safely say I have never listened to this album from start to finish in a single sitting, I’m pretty certain I’ve heard every song before, though looking down the track list there’s a few I’m not sure of. Regardless, this is the moment that Bon Jovi made it big, releasing a monumentally successful, and some would say, classic album.
Let It Rock: There’s the big production, and a monstrous metallic noise, followed by a bizarre organ mess, before the song falls into huge, plodding rock song. It’s pure 80s in tones, sound, style, and theme. Looking back at what we know of the album and the more famous songs, this seems like an unusual choice to open the album with. It’s pretty poor, though it does of course have its catchy moments, the musicianship is fine, and while the chorus is stadium-sized as we would expect, it isn’t one anyone is likely to remember, especially given the songs which surround it. Decent guitar solo though.
You Give Love A Bad Name: Well, that’s more like it – an instant classic rock song, complete with sensual growls, big riffs, and an even bigger, shout-it-out chorus. Growing up as a hard rock and metal fan, it’s difficult to avoid Bon Jovi and songs like this, and the topic of conversation when speaking about the band always eventually turns to whether or not a metal fan should ‘like’ the band. I’m not one for such elitism though, and I’ll recognise a good song when I hear it. This rings true for much of the BJ catalogue – their hits are hits for a reason, namely, that they are well-written songs with good playing and memorable melodies. I’m fine with that, although it’s obvious that many of these songs are cheesy and a product of their time. Take out some of the 80s arrangements and styles though, and you’re still left with an essentially great piece of songwriting.
Livin On A Prayer: And so it remains. As mentioned before, it may be cheesy, and it may basically be a pop song covered in heavy, glossy guitars, and a stadium rawk sensibility, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most anthemic songs of all time, and one of the best songs of the decade.
Social Disease: Sex noises. Disappointment. 80s blasts with unfortunate brass. Trumpets and guitars do not mix. This is a rather silly song that doesn’t really go anywere. It tries to be… I don’t know… seedy or something, but it’s more middling garbage. Towards the ends, the pace changes slightly to allow the designated guitar solo, but this is one to ignore.
Wanted Dead Or Alive: Chains. Synth. Cowboys. Guitar. Epic riff. Yay, it’s another classic song. The first of several cowboy ranch rustlings songs the band would produce, and probably the best, the sign of quality here is in the masterful build-up, the subtlety, and the creativity which marks it out from the lesser songs on the album. The lyrics show vast improvement over the standard fare, and musically it shows maturity in the songwriting when compared with songs like the previous one. Naturally, it isn’t long before the solo is whipped out and the volume is turned up, but it’s both a well-written, cracking tune, and a guitar player’s dream.
Raise Your Hands: Then the subtlety goes out the window for this slice of Van Halen-esque sleazy cheese. It’s all very silly, but at least it’s energetic and fun, and the chorus is fairly catchy. With a little more thought this could have been another decent anthem, but as it stands it’s a crowd-pleasing peace of fluff which gets steadily more laughable with all the shout-outs to cities and cheering and whistling.
Without Love: Cheese land of the 80s one hit wonder power anthem variety. Actually though, this is a pretty good song. The verses are stronger melodically than the chorus – with a better chorus this could have been much better. Aside from being another pop song smothered by big boys and their big guitars, it’s a fine song. I’d like to hear a more stripped down version of this. I imagine most people will see this one as either entirely forgettable, or an underrated classic.
I’d Die For You: Runaway part 2. Like part 1, it uses the synths to its strengths, creating that wonderfully atmospheric 80s tone. Again the verses are stong here, the pre-chorus is a mess, and the chorus could have been much better. It’s okay, it’s another case of a missed opportunity. With all these songs requiring a little more polish and thought, this could have been a genuinely awesome album, but of course I’m sure the band and the fans are more than pleased, and I don’t think it would have been possible for the album to have sold any more than it did anyway.
Never Say Goodbye: I always had a soft spot for this one, but then I always did like a power anthem when it’s done right. Those fluttery synth noises are entirely unnecessary, and this time it’s the chorus which is stronger melodically, while the verses aren’t too great. The lyrics are fine, typical US romantic nostalgia, the guitar melodies are terrific, and it’s the sort of tear-jerker which men of a certain age and certain disposition may admit to getting a lump in their throat about.
Wild In The Streets: We close with an up-tempo slice of Springsteen-esque cheese. Thankfully, it hits all the right knows, the synth even works, the melodies are memorable, and everything feels even. It’s definitely an energetic song to do the Spac-leg to, and the joy of it overcomes the cheese. Another great solo, and (which I haven’t mentioned yet) Jon’s vocals seem much stronger than on previous releases. A fine finish to an overall fine album.
So, many would say that this is the high point of their career. Sales certain point towards that fact, and it does contain a number of their most famous tracks. However, we all know there are more hits to come, so I’ll be listening to those at some point. As already mentioned, there are a number of undisputed classics here, but a small number of fillers, and small number of middling songs prevent it from being, in my mind, the classic that it could have been. People will continue to listen to the famous ones over and over again for generations to come, far beyond the time when there isn’t even anyone alive who still remembers the 80s (aside from eternal me), while the other tracks will fade away. What do you guys think? Is it an all time classic? Or is it too cheesy to accept?