Nightman Listens To – These Days – Bon Jovi

bon_jovi_-_these_days_1995_front_cover

Greetings, Glancers! It’s back to 1995 now, a year when Grunge was on the wane, Britpop was on the rise, and Bon Jovi were still riding high on the success of Greatest Hits album Crossroads and its two new singles Always and Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night. If those two songs proved that the band had the chops to continue through the turbulent decade, they needed to follow it up with a new album which could really drive that point home. These Days wasn’t as big a smash as the previous album, at least not in the US, but the band’s overseas powers continued and they had another big seller on their hands along with a string of singles. Looking at the track list there’s only three that I definitely recognize, though I assume I’ll probably remember one or two more once I listen. So far in this endeavour, Bon Jovi hasn’t done as good a job as Bryan Adams or Madonna at showing me new unheard gems, so maybe we’ll get one or two this time around.

‘Hey God’ starts with a distant drum. Then a voice. Then a crunching intro, rougher guitars and drums than we’re used to and an ever so slight country line in the mix. The drums step up a beat and the pace quickens for a thumping continuation. The pace and volume eases off for the verse, picking up again for the chorus as Jon belts out the words. I don’t think I’ve heard this one before, but it’s a good start – heavier and without the cheese and plainness which has so far plagued a lot of their album tracks. Though I see videos for this on Youtube, so maybe this was a single I somehow missed upon release. The vocals have a greater edge and don’t sound forced or growled for fashionable purposes. Lyrically it seems like it’s telling a story and the chorus hints at being influenced by the major grunge and alt-rock lyricists of the time. It probably doesn’t need to be over 6 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long.

‘Something For The Pain’ starts with some sort of broken harpsichord wrangling before the main riff comes in. I do know this one, but don’t recall and particular fondness for it. Listening again now it feels like classic Bon Jovi – verses, bridge, and big chorus all mingling for attention. Te verse melodies are my favourite piece, the bridge feels a little average, but the chorus roars from the stereo and is sure to be another crowd-pleaser, even if it is a simple one. The middle section is a little bit different from what the band does, doesn’t work as well as it could have, but it’s not bad. Two good songs so far, and the two big hitters are up next.

‘This Ain’t A Love Song’ is the first ballad of the album. It opens with a soft touch and proceeds with a swaying last dance tenderness. This song has an absolutely fantastic bridge and the chorus is excellent too. The verses have that chatting over an empty beer glass quality, the lyrics punctuated with regret and nostalgic pain. The strings which come in are too low in the mix to make much of an impact – as much as I love strings I don’t think they are needed here. The song effectively avoids the cheese and is one of the band’s most effective ballads, and for my money one of their better songs.

‘These Days’ starts in somber form, with brilliantly evocative pianos and guitar – one of their best introductions, easily. The lyrics are good too, and once the drums kick in the Springsteen influence is plain to hear. The grunge influence is clear today, at least from the lyrical perspective – the emotion and wisdom therein perfectly suited to Bon Jovi’s musical style. It’s easy to forget that this one is essentially a ballad too once we hear the chorus, it’s a chorus as good as any the band has written and has a habit of taking centre-stage in our memories. I think this is one of their most emotional songs, and subsequently one of their best. Four songs in and this is as good a rock album as you’re ever likely to hear – can the rest of the album possibly live up to the opening?

‘Lie To Me’ start with Twin Peaks synth, always a good thing. More storytelling lyrics. Intelligent use of guitars. Ah yes, I have heard this before (once the ‘yeah yeah yeahs’ started I remembered) but there’s enough here that it feels new to me. It’s another ballad, not as instantly catchy as the two previous songs but the ‘yeah’ hook is great and there are plenty of moments in and around the chorus which lift it above the average. Another good song then.

‘Damned’ starts with more spoken parts. There’s an unusually funky riff for the band, not quite Chili Peppers, but something you wouldn’t expect from the band. Then we even get trumpets in the chorus. It’s a step down from the previous songs, but there is enough sport and fun and invention in this one to stop it feeling dull. There’s a kick-ass solo too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Possibly worth shaving thirty seconds off.

‘My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms’ is one I thought I may have heard before, based on the name. Listening now, I don’t remember anything about it though. It feels like a darker ballad – that grunge influence again – even the guitar tone feels an awful lot like Alice In Chains in places. Nice avoiding of an obvious chorus there – it’s more obvious next time around, but still unusual enough that it doesn’t feel traditional. Heavier guitars come in eventually to give an unexpected oomph, followed by a decent, almost poignant solo. The song continues in this fashion for another couple of minutes, rounding out another strong effort.

‘It’s Hard Letting You Go’ starts with more synth, more ghostly than the Twin Peaks stuff, but with a similar vibe. Is this another ballad? More good vocals, more thought over the lyrics and construction than they have shown on previous albums. It’s certainly slow and littered with sadness which seems genuine, can’t believe I haven’t heard this one before. It feels like it’s retreading a lot of what they covered on Bed Of Roses – to the point that some of the lyrics and their delivery are almost identical, but it’s still another very good song. The momentary string bonuses work well too. I have to say this has been an unexpectedly fantastic album so far, I was genuinely concerned by the lack of recognizable names on the track list before starting, but safe to say this is their best album so far – lets not throw it away on the final few tracks!

‘Hearts Breaking Even’ starts with a mid tempo, mid volume before falling back to ballad levels. The verse is slow and simple, the bridge is pretty great, but the chorus doesn’t quite match the build up. The chorus is fine, but it feels very familiar even though I’m pretty sure I haven’t actually heard this song. Maybe it’s one more slight ballad too many on an album which has shown that it has much better ones. Still, that bridge is good enough to sell the song, and undoubtedly plenty of people will love the chorus. Some funny scratchy vocals near the end.

‘Something To Believe In’ has a stumbling drum intro followed by piano and bass and shouts. Again it all feels so much more well thought out than their previous album tracks. There’s a leisurely maturity to the song, a confidence that suggests the band have been writing at this quality for years when in truth their singles had been vastly superior to their standard album tracks. It’s another terrific song which continues to build upon the early laid foundations – I love songs which continue to build upon the same idea or riff or melody. There’s a bizarre drum and bass freak out in the middle too, another sign that the band were just throwing ideas against the wall to see what would stick, and surprisingly so far most of them have.

‘If That’s What It Takes’ opens in uplifting fashion, guitars bouncing jovially and fading easily to an effective verse. Yet again the songwriting is strong, the melodies run evenly through equally good bridge and chorus. It’s quite difficult writing these posts as I listen for the first time as I keep wanting to simply listen to the songs and not worry about typing random first impressions. Funny effects on the voice and guitars etc. Again the little experiments, the little additions of strings, the subtle things all pay off. No complaints.

‘Diamond Ring’ has slow guitar and bass and a very familiar melody. Where did they rip this off from – it’s on the tip of me tongue. It’s all very nice again, solid vocals and melodies, good acoustic sound and playing, and a fine closing song to an album which more often than not treads into dark places.

Finally! As mentioned in the intro, the other artists I’ve been listening to long term on the blog have fared a little better in their hidden gems with Madonna making a couple (so far) of fully coherent and strong albums. With These Days, out of nowhere Bon Jovi have crafted what is presumably their masterpiece – and they did it without a truly massive hit on the scale of Living On A Prayer or Always. That said, the singles I knew of beforehand are as good as ever but the songs around it are of a consistently high quality – at this point in my run through I didn’t think they were capable of it, especially considering that this is the last album in their classic period. It would be five years before they returned in a new century, and a new millenium with Crush – an album I remember being labelled as a comeback. It seems that label is not accurate as a comeback usually assumes that they previous work was maybe not up to scratch. This however is an album to remind you why you fell in love with the band in the first place and I’m now looking forward to Crush because of it.

What are your thoughts on These Days? Is it one of your favourite albums or have you dismissed it simply because it is Bon Jovi? Let us know in the comments!

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