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Bon Jovi

   Bon Jovi (Mercury, 1984)
   7800° Fahrenheit (Mercury, 1985)
     Slippery When Wet (Mercury, 1986)
   New Jersey (Mercury, 1988)
    Keep the Faith (Mercury, 1992)
     Cross Road: 14 Classic Grooves (Mercury, 1994)
    These Days (Mercury, 1995)
   Crush (Island, 2000)
    One Wild Night: Live 1985–2001 (Uptown/Universal, 2001)
   Bounce (Island, 2002)
     This Left Feels Right (Island, 2003)
    - 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong (Island, 2004)
    Have a Nice Day (Island, 2005)
    - Lost Highway (Island, 2007)
    - The Circle (Island, 2009)

Jon Bon Jovi    Blaze of Glory (Mercury, 1990)
    Destination Anywhere (Mercury, 1997)

Rocketing to stardom in the wake of the Eighties pop-metal boom, Bon Jovi's early recordings fused the crass popcraft of Journey and Starship with the average-Joe populism of Bruce Springsteen for a sound that aspired to rock & roll grandeur. Bon Jovi and 7800° Fahrenheit understand the basic formula, sticking close to pop conventions like heartbreak lyrics and strident choruses (although Bon Jovi does at least hint at things to come with "Shot Through the Heart"). The band is nearly redeemed by Slippery When Wet, an album which in its better moments—"Livin' on a Prayer," say, or "Wanted Dead or Alive"—actually delivers enough melodic razzle-dazzle to make the band's shameless posturing almost forgivable. Unfortunately, the band's massive sales encouraged the lads to show how little success had changed them, which they did through the bombastic Springsteenisms of New Jersey.

Bon Jovi the band went on hiatus, during which time frontman Jon Bon Jovi released the solo album-cum-soundtrack Blaze of Glory (written for the film Young Guns II), which updates "Wanted Dead or Alive" but otherwise makes the Wild West seem suspiciously like East Jersey. After regrouping, the band quickly returned to form with the cheerfully clichéd Keep the Faith, which at least balanced the bombast with the corny but heartfelt ballad "Bed of Roses." Cross Road, a relentlessly tuneful best-of, has charms enough to be a guilty pleasure for all but the most cynical, and even adds to the canon with "Always." (A second best-of, This Left Feels Right, dilutes the catalogue's charm with later and lesser hits.)

From there, the band continued on as if the Nineties never happened, cranking out variations on the old formula and somehow continuing to fill arenas. It hardly matters that These Days sounds like it should have been called Those Days (though it's hard not to admire the shamelessness of "Lie to Me"). Destination Anywhere, Jon Bon Jovi's second solo project, sounds more like a collection of demos than a fully-realized album, but it did give the singer the opportunity to flex his melodrama muscles on "August 7, 4:15." Crush is summed up in the chorus to "Two Story Town," which complains of "the same old sights, the same old sounds," but Bounce finds the band briefly revitalized by the tragedy of 9/11. Not that the blunt, jingoistic "Undivided" deserves comparison to the similar-but-superior "The Rising," but it wouldn't be Bon Jovi if the band didn't continue to aspire to Springsteen.

The smirking face on the cover of Have a Nice Day sets the tone for Bon Jovi's (often bitter) thoughts on middle age. The subjects of the songs "just want to be loved" but aren't afraid to apply a little working class hero elbow grease to get the job done right. "Who Says You Can't Go Home," a corny duet with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, became a surprise Number One country hit, setting the table for the full-on Nashville cred grab Lost Highway in 2007. The album fails miserably when it kowtows to country conventions (the Big & Rich collaboration "We Got It Going On" is one of the most embarassing songs Bon Jovi has ever released). But when the fiddles and home-spun phrases are kept to a minimum, the songs are entertaining enough, suggesting what Garth Brooks may have sounded like in the late 2000s had he kept recording.

The band is back in familiar generic stadium rock territory on The Circle, which splits the difference between weighty, U2-style ruminations ("When We Were Beautiful") and sub-Springsteen-ian anthemry ("We Weren't Born To Follow") that clearly still strike a chord with the faithful: It debuted at Number One on The Billboard 200, the fourth chart-topper of Bon Jovi's career.

Like the Boss on Tracks, Bon Jovi plundered its vaults big time for 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong, a four-disc boxed set featuring 50 (!) unreleased and rare songs. This completists-only behemoth has some worthwhile material, but wading through a host of bar band-level blues rockers, ho-hum demos and songs with Richie Sambora and Tico Torres on vocals is quite a slog.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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