BON JOVI: NEW JERSEY (1988)
1) Lay Your Hands On Me; 2) Bad Medicine; 3) Born To Be My Baby; 4) Living In Sin; 5) Blood On Blood; 6) Homebound Train; 7) Wild Is The Wind; 8) Ride Cowboy Ride; 9) Stick To Your Guns; 10) I'll Be There For You; 11) 99 In The Shade; 12) Love For Sale.
Scrutinizing the million shades of awful is kind of an ungrateful affair, but such is our trade, and therefore, I have to state that the concept of «Bon Jovi as decadent superstars» somehow feels more forgivable to me than the concept of «Bon Jovi vying for decadent superstardom». There's just something hilarious about seeing these guys work out of the understanding that they are the biggest band in the world (and have to uphold that image), rather than just diligently push forward in the faint, but prophetic hope of gaining that title. More than once, I have seen the word «confidence» spring up in the discussion of New Jersey — and indeed, this is Bon Jovi at their most self-confident, hairiest, glammiest, narcissistic ever. It's just that the album has no talkbox, but in every other respect it outbellies its predecessor.
I mean, you can hardly get any more arrogant than naming your album New Jersey (naturally, to remind your fair country that you come from the same place as The Boss, and, incidentally, would not mind claiming the same title), and you can hardly get more blasphemous than calling your first song ʽLay Your Hands On Meʼ, as if you imagined yourself to be... well, you know. With overdubbed crowd noises, overwhelming drums, martial vocal harmonies — the intro to the song states the fact that Bon Jovi are now very, very, very big and they like it that way. Throw in a church organ-imitating synthesizer and a clearly gospel chorus, and what you get is a double metaphor: evangelical clichés as a substitute for a love serenade, and a love serenade as a substitute for letting you know that Bon Jovi are now bigger than Jesus Christ. (Well, at least that hair sure beats the Son of God in most of the cultural depictions.)
Then there's ʽBad Medicineʼ — written according to the usual hit formula, but arguably with far more swagger than any of their previous hits, as the boys feel completely loose and totally self-confident, as if the results of clinical analysis had just come in and it were now medically confirmed that the collective length of their virility organs could girdle the Taj Mahal three times over, and not even Mötley Crüe could beat this achievement. It isn't even a particularly smutty song, lyrics-wise — it just rains so much testosterone that the effect becomes comical, especially at the end, when Jon «urges the band on» with one last chorus: "I'm not done! One more time! WITH FEELIN'!" I'd like to hate this song for the usual melodically primitive, intellectually offensive piece of glam-pop tripe that it is, but I'm just a bit too busy laughing to do that.
In fact, there is only one song on this album that is seriously offensive — its main offense being in taking itself too seriously. ʽBlood On Bloodʼ, a brawny sentimental reminiscence on Bon Jovi's childhood friendships, once again intrudes on Springsteen territory, as all the band members take their cues directly from the corresponding members of the E Street Band, but interpret them according to their own limited musical vision, which places loudness, pathos, and emotional simplicity above everything else. I can see myself getting entertained by Bon Jovi in an uncomfortable dream — I could see myself getting inspired over a passionate epic anthem by Bon Jovi only in the worst of nightmares.
Fortunately, the next song is ʽHomebound Trainʼ, which takes us from Springsteen into the tenets of Southern rock-cum-pop-metal, toying around with a bit of me-and-the-devil imagery, but ultimately just a vehicle for some head-spinning sleazy-funky jamming, with a fairly long instrumental section that may or may not have been the inspiration for Aerosmith's ʽLove In An Elevatorʼ (the two songs are quite similar in tone, although ʽTrainʼ is faster and more aggressive in spirit). Together with ʽBad Medicineʼ, ʽ99 In The Shadeʼ, and the closing acoustic ditty ʽLove For Saleʼ (allegedly recorded at a drunken party, but with some pretty nifty acoustic solos played out for a drunk guitarist), this all forms the «cock rock» basis for New Jersey, around which you see sprinkled the occasional bad social statement like ʽBlood On Bloodʼ and a bunch of by now inescapable power ballads like ʽI'll Be There For Youʼ that you have to be ready for in any situation — nobody wants to deliberately lower his odds of getting laid, after all.
In brief, this is that one perfect juncture in Bon Jovi's career when they had already «gone pro», but did not yet feel the need or pressure to «mature»: New Jersey is mostly about having fun, and succeeds even better simply because by now, the band has no nervous obligation to «prove itself» (apart from demonstrating that their success was not a fluke, which is not that difficult if you keep Desmond Child and Bruce Fairbairn by your side). There is still no talk, nor will there ever be, of the band putting out a genuinely «good» record, but it only made me puke once or twice, and that's certainly something to remember.