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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bon Jovi: Slippery When Wet


1) Let It Rock; 2) You Give Love A Bad Name; 3) Livin' On A Prayer; 4) Social Disease; 5) Wanted Dead Or Alive; 6) Raise Your Hands; 7) Without Love; 8) I'd Die For You; 9) Never Say Goodbye; 10) Wild In The Streets.

There is one hilarious discrepancy between ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ and its accompanying video which, I think, more or less summarizes all you need to know about Bon Jovi. The lyrics and the «aural autmosphere» of the song reveal it as a dumbed-down, trivialized take on Springsteen: here's Tommy who works on the docks, there's Gina who works at the diner, times are tough, but they got each other and that's a fact, and eventually we disentangle ourselves from the scary grip of the grunting talkbox and make the transition to the optimistic, hope-inspiring chorus: musical medication for the weary souls of the working class, what's not to like?

But then we take a look at the video and... what the heck? It's a video about Bon Jovi, the band, rehearsing their flying-over-the-stage routines and then carrying them out in the presence of an ecstatic stadium audience. What exactly does that have to do with Tommy and Gina? Answer: nothing, and there's no reason it ever should, because the song is not about Tommy and Gina, it is about excess, escapism, and adrenaline. The bassline makes you want to dance, the talkbox makes you want to pull scary faces, and the chorus... the chorus is like Beethoven's friggin' ʽOde To Joyʼ, well, sharing the same spiritual function, I mean. It also has the word «prayer» in it, which would probably appeal to all the religious members of the audience (a lesson that would soon be learned by Madonna and God knows who else).

Still, the lyrics are important — Jon Bon Jovi sends out a clear signal that he is here for all the dock workers and all the diner servers in America (and the world as a whole), and certainly not for any sort of pretentious elitist snobs who value vague ideas like «complexity» and «class» over a very concrete and easily understandable idea like «instantaneous mass appeal». Joining forces with promising young producer Bruce Fairbairn and promising young corporate songwriter Des­mond Child (both of whom would soon become walking symbols of the glam metal era), Bon Jovi trim some of the excessively electronic fat from Fahrenheit, put some tighter screws on the hooks, and come out with an album that, according to popular statistics, has so far managed to sell about 28 million copies — we could add «because every dock worker and every diner server in the world got at least one», but that would be a cheap insult to two respectable professions that are really far more useful and noble than the profession of a glam metal artist.

The amazing commercial success of the record was not, I think, exclusively due to the «magic» of the songwriting and the production — in a large part, it was due to the fact that by 1986, the world was ready for Bon Jovi in a way in which it was not yet ready for Bon Jovi two years, or even one year earlier. And there were lots of things that had gradually prepared the world for it — not the least of them Bruce Springsteen himself, whose catchy, glossy rock bombast on Born In The U.S.A. must have been no less a major inspiration for Bon Jovi than the hedonistic pop metal of Van Halen and friends. The main point being — even if we distance ourselves from issues of «taste», «class», or «intelligence», it's not as if we see the birth of a new formula here on Slip­pery When Wet: we merely witness its acceptance by the world at large.

The music is now neatly divided between power rockers and power ballads, the former praising the material joys of life and the latter reminding of spiritual pleasures — curiously enough, «tits and ass» being more or less equally split here between the material and the spiritual half (this would soon be remedied on New Jersey, their most quintessential «glam» recording of all time). That said, there is really very little structural or compositional difference here between the rockers and the ballads — other than tempos and slight tweaks in Sambora's guitar tones. And why should there be, if even the two biggest hits of the album are based on the exact same bass line? ʽYou Give Love A Bad Nameʼ (itself a re-write of ʽShot Through The Heartʼ from the first album) is really almost the same song as ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ, except it doesn't have the talkbox effect, which, I guess, makes it inferior.

I must admit that «catchiness» applies to the absolute majority of these choruses. In records like these, what matters is whether you can look back at the song titles and reconstruct the melodies from them in your head, and yes I can: "nothing would mean nothing WITHOUT LOVE!" (double negative alert!), "NEVER SAY GOODBYE! NEVER SAY GOODBAYIEEAY!" (this one was like a blueprint for 99% of Aerosmith power ballads, wasn't it?), "we were WILD IN THE STREETS! WILD, WILD, WILD IN THE STREETS!" — hey, I get most of it, and I can totally see why 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans couldn't be wrong. I think that only the glam-cowboy anthem ʽWanted Dead Or Aliveʼ falls foul of this formula, and should by all means be qualified as unsuccessful filler in this context: too slow and too distant from the true goals of the album (not to mention that it has a little too much syncopation in it — not a good thing, people might start spilling too much of their beers from those plastic cups).

To be fair, though, I was able to do that with Fahrenheit as well, so there is no reason why this record should be rated any higher in comparison; besides, we are long past 1986 and its values, even if those values have not managed to find a better defender than Bon Jovi ever since, so I cannot exclude that the album will still be listened to a hundred years from now, at least by those who find its friendly, hedonistic, excessive vibe «retrospectively refreshing» or something like that. The gut appeal of Slippery When Wet is undeniable, and there is no need to fight it if you properly un­derstand the place of this music among other types of music — the problem is that most people simply refuse to understand.

My thumbs down will not make any serious difference here — it will merely indicate that in this particular case, I think that the «guilty pleasure» aspects of this album do not excuse its embarrassingly manipulative nature, nor do they compensate for the very poor ratio of musical complexity to anthemic pretense. That said, I also have to admit that the moment where the talk­box guitar kicks in on ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ is one of the most psychologically efficient moments in the history of hard rock — too bad they had to go and spoil it with one more idiotic anthemic chorus, instead of simply keeping on grossing out the little old ladies and scaring the shit out of little children.


  1. "and should by all means be qualified as unsuccessful filler in this context"
    In this context yes, but as glam-country (not exactly the same as tearjerking country) is pretty rare Wanted, Dead or Alive is the only song that displays at least some creativity and originality.
    In terms of adequacy - what tries the band to do, do they succeed at it and do they find themselves an audiences - Slippery when Wet is a total thumbs up. The thumbs down reflects my feeling as well. Despite me not only being a pretentious elitist snob, but also a pretentious überelitist supersnob (ie looking down on snobs) Bon Jovi always failed to resonate with me in any way (unlike Status Quo and Uriah Heep, for instance, to name two bands without any class). Bon Jovi just didn't write for me. But like I wrote, when I put that aside I cannot help but recognize that they do well on this album what they do. And it's what they want to do as well.
    So from a twisted intellectual point of view I dispute the thumbs down.

    1. To understand what I mean: compare A Year by Status Quo with any Bon Jovi ballad and hear the difference.

  2. I'm surprised with the thumbs down. I agree with your general critique: excessive, populist, second-rate Springsteen with big hair and tighter jeans. But I just can't hate it like i do the other hair bands. Nostalgia certainly plays a part: this was my sophomore year of high school, and I was just discovering girls--and their love of Bon Jovi. But also, I respect (gulp) the guys for not hiding their intentions to be the voice of young democracy and labor (I say this somewhat facetiously, not politically). plus, they don't push the T&A (&P) angle as much as the LA bands did. I wasn't quite ready for THAT sex ed lecture. So I give it a weak but wistful THUMBS UP.

  3. Plus, it helps that they weren't painted up like a bunch of hookers.

  4. Well, it's an 1986 album made by the biggest fakers in rock music... thus contributing immensely this year to be so musically miserable.

    What else than thumbs down?

  5. the bassline on bad name is quite not [i]exactly[/i] the same as the one on prayer. Actually i like that song better, despite being supposedly the lesser one of the two.

    On a general note, i think Fairbairn knows one or two things about music, what with reviving Aerosmith's and AC/DC's careers. The guy must be given his props.

  6. More useless, but telling trivia: Desmond Child had actually been in the business for quite a while before he hooked up with these guys -- first, as the leader of his own hideous disco group, Desmond Child and Rouge; and as co-writer of Kiss' disco hit "I Was Made for Lovin' You". Always a schlocker.

  7. The lyrics are unintentionally funny. Comedian Robert Smigel's puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog hit the nail on the head when he told Bon Jovi, "So you are going to play the part of a vampire, eh? Finally, a role which REQUIRES you to suck!"