If you want to learn how to stay relevant over several decades in the ever-changing, fickle music industry all you have to do is chart the career of Bon Jovi.
They could easily be categorized as an 80’s hair band, but that wouldn’t be in the least bit fair. Musically, they play straight-ahead rock with a keen sense of melody and nearly always a higher level of song structure. Jon Bon Jovi’s voice and Ritchie Sambora’s guitar provide the band with their distinct sound, but that sound doesn’t sound dated. In fact, with each album they sound more and more contemporary.
Their latest offering, Have A Nice Day, is a collection of Bon Jovi music that really is no different from earlier works like Bounce and Crush. It’s the fact that the band doesn’t need to reinvent itself to have something new to say. Very few of their generation (Def Leppard comes to mind) can say the same thing.
1. Have A Nice Day – Typical Bon Jovi musically with the breaks and vocals. One thing that Jon Bon Jovi does well is sing “Ohhhhhhh” in a way that is extremely infectious. His vocals are strong here and the back-ups are quintessential Bon Jovi arrangements. Sambora delivers a tasty, but short solo. I love the acoustic guitar in the break after the solo.
2. I Wanna Be Loved – I dig the guitar a lot on this track. The chorus is great here with a characteristic music break to showcase the vocals. Jon isn’t stretching too much here and it serves the song well. The keyboard riff sounds a little like Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran.
3. Welcome to Wherever You Are – I like this as the title of the album better than Have a Nice Day since I read that and think immediately of the Mick Foley book. This sounds like something that my friend Russ would have written – deceptively simple melody and guitar with a nice reference to the Almighty. I like the sentiment of the lyrics. “Everyone’s a hero, everyone’s a star.” The end-note is very Russ.
4. Who Says You Can’t Go Home – Another good lyric. This song, for me, sounds like something John Cougar Mellencamp might have recorded. There’s nothing of the 80s in this song. It’s fun. Sambora has a riff right after the solo that sounds just like Let’s Put the X in Sex by KISS, but I’m sure it’s not even remotely lifted.
5. Last Man Standing – Here we have some vintage Bon Jovi with a rocking guitar opening, but I really wish they would have laid down a Runaway style keyboard riff instead of just the clean guitar. The guitar/keyboard on the chorus sound just like Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. The solo is hot and maybe wasted on this song. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we know where we’ve been” is an excellent lyric. I think they might have done better naming this song The Real Thing since they repeat it almost as much as Last Man Standing.
6. Bells of Freedom – In the style of Bed of Roses, this track is only passable. The patriotic theme doesn’t detract from the song, but it doesn’t help it either. I can see this being used in some sort of recruitment video. One of the weaker tracks on the album.
7. Wildflower – I could easily see Train recording this track. The keyboard is sweeping. The melody is flowing with lyrics that tell a story. Another one of the tracks that doesn’t have any ties to the inherent 80s style and sounds like something that was recorded today.
8. Last Cigarette – Here’s a great song. “Your love is like one last cigarette. I will savor it. Take it in and hold your breath. Hope it never ends and when it’s gone, it’s gone” is so catchy you won’t get it out of your head. The Beach Boys style break with the additional, “You always lose the girl in a Brian Wilson world” made me smile. This is the best song so far.
9. I am – Lyrically, it reminds me of one of the better tracks on Styx’s last studio album I Will. The sentiment is essentially the same, but I think I like the Styx song better. Musically it doesn’t push any boundaries, but is a solid stanza/chorus/stanza/chorus/bridge/solo/chorus/out. Not boring, but not much anything else either.
10. Complicated – Sounding very much like their signature-style musically, the groove is interesting and engaging. Per their usual writing, there’s a break for Jon to tell us the name of the song and a nice bridge for him to showcase his voice.
11. Novacaine – From the perspective of a relationship breaking-up, Jon is telling the story of the song with massive emotion. It isn’t even a slow song. I love the chorus with the back-up vocals. Nice touch lyrically with Living on a Prayer.
12. Story of my Live – Finally, a track with a keyboard lead and driving guitar. Why does every Bon Jovi song have to have a music break that isolates Jon’s voice? Not a bad chorus. There seems to be a bit of an autobiographical nature to this song.
13. Dirty Little Secret – Guitar work that sounds slightly like Pearl Jam leads off the song. I like the African drum beat pushing the song. Lyrically, its got enough to keep your attention.
14. Unbreakable – I think for a second that Trent Reznor is playing guitar and then it becomes more pop. It actually sounds like something that Kelly Clarkson, Britney or Christina might have had a hit with. It decidedly doesn’t sound like Bon Jovi. I don’t like the rap style vocals on the stanzas. This should be picked up by some female artist ASAP.
15. These Open Arms – A Beatlesque, trippy opening turns into a piano slow song. I read the title and just keep hearing Journey’s Open Arms which is a far superior song that what we have here. The guitar continues to remain like something out of Sgt. Peppers. I like the sweeping keyboards. It needs more work.
Overall, the band has a solid record here. I believe there are some tracks that should have been B-sides (These Open Arms) or shopped to other artists (Unbreakable) or just left off the album (Bells of Freedom), but they don’t detract too much from the package. If it isn’t already, Have A Nice Day will be the first single probably followed by Welcome to Wherever You Are with Last Cigarette bringing up the rear.
I’m not sure there’s anything on the album that will be burning up the charts, but it is a strong collection of music and as soon as they can tour to support it they’ll get some airplay.