BON JOVI: BOUNCE (2002)
1) Undivided; 2) Everyday; 3) The Distance; 4) Joey; 5) Misunderstood; 6) All About Lovin' You; 7) Hook Me Up; 8) Right Side Of Wrong; 9) Love Me Back To Life; 10) You Had Me From Hello; 11) Bounce; 12) Open All Night.
After the «crush», comes the «bounce»... if we were talking predators, I guess the two should have been turned around, but first, Bon Jovi are no predators, and second, Bounce is supposed to deal with the issue of «bouncing back» from 9/11. Since the music business logically supposed that the American people were now in more need of spiritual guidance from established artists than ever before, there was no way Bon Jovi could not write their country an album about it — after all, Bruce Springsteen did, and even Neil Young did, even being from a different country and all, and I suppose Billy Joel would have done one, too, had he still been interested in writing pop songs rather than recasting himself as a 21st century reincarnation of Chopin.
In all honesty, 9/11 was a pretty clumsy pretext for writing topical anthems — perhaps because so many people rushed to use it for inspiration, and, as it often happens in such cases, most, if not all, of the results felt flat, or, at least, have not outlived their momentum (anybody still remember Paul McCartney's ʽFreedomʼ? Even ʽGive Ireland Back To The Irishʼ had more lasting value...). The Bon Jovi album is hardly an exception, but on the whole, Bounce has more or less the same feel as Crush — not knowing its context and not listening to the lyrics, you'd hardly get the impression that something particularly awful and life-changing had inspired its appearance. ʽUndividedʼ opens the record with a song of dread, hope and unity, but essentially it is just a common-sounding alt-rocker whose best part is Sambora's short and elegantly constructed guitar solo; the harmonies on the "one for love, one for truth" chorus come together in a muddy howl, singing along to which is not much fun, although, of course, if any of the band's fans want to pretend that doing so really makes them feel "united" and "undivided", it's their Jove-given right.
Much more efficient is the lead single that preceded the album itself — ʽEverydayʼ consists of all the same ingredients (plus a little bit of the talkbox to immediately let you know who's been sleeping here), but it's got a credible paranoid pulse to it, with a solidly doubled bass-guitar riff and a respectable verse-bridge-chorus buildup, one of the boys' most successful pop-rock concoctions from the last millennium (and another good guitar solo, too). And it's not the only such song here: ʽHook Me Upʼ and the title track are also energetic, catchy, and not particularly suffering from overproduction. Jon's good-boyishness certainly shines through in how he does not dare go all the way with the "me, I just don't give a f-f-f-f-f..." of the bridge, but when you are dominated by the rules of the game of much of your established audience (at least, the hypocritical part of it), I guess there ain't much to do but to follow the rules.
In between these few rockers comes a lot of softer stuff that mostly just flies out of the window right away. As Jon grows older, he gradually turns away from imitating Springsteen to imitating Billy Joel — ʽJoeyʼ and especially ʽRight Side Of Wrongʼ sound almost note-for-note tributes to Piano Man: grand epics where pianos and strings matter more than guitars, and pathos matters more than pianos and strings. I do, however, have to admit that the orchestral arrangements on these and other songs immediately struck me as the best thing about them, so it was no surprise to learn that they were at least partially handled by David Campbell (the father of Beck and, not coincidentally, probably the best orchestral arranger in pop of the past thirty years). The strings at least make life less miserable when you are forced to give in to the «spiritual majesty» of these tunes. Nothing, however, redeems the band's excourses into neo-country such as ʽYou Had Me From Helloʼ and ʽMisunderstoodʼ which could just as well be performed by Taylor Swift or somebody else in a sexy red dress.
Bottomline: once again, not «awful» — the pluses and minuses outbalance each other fairly well to come together in a «neutral» assessment — but still not enough to raise Jon and Richie to the level of «artist who actually has something worth hearing to say». I mean, okay, it begins with a few songs about 9/11, but it still ends with a song about Jon Bon Jovi's role in Ally McBeal and how it should have turned out. Far be it from me to pass judgement upon whether it is ʽUndividedʼ or ʽOpen All Nightʼ that encapsulates a greater part of the man's spirit. But it could be argued that the album's construction is still symbolical — no matter how horrendous the scope of your latest catastrophe may ne, when it all ends you are still going back to your soap operas, want it or not. Maybe that's what the proverbial «bounce» is all about.