BON JOVI: THESE DAYS (1995)
1) Hey God; 2) Something For The Pain; 3) This Ain't A Love Song; 4) These Days; 5) Lie To Me; 6) Damned; 7) My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms; 8) (It's Hard) Letting You Go; 9) Hearts Breaking Even; 10) Something To Believe In; 11) If That's What It Takes; 12) Diamond Ring; 13) All I Want Is Everything; 14) Bitter Wine.
By the mid-1990s, they took it way too far. At least Keep The Faith still retained some features typical of a rock'n'roll album — These Days took its formula of ecstatic power ballads and foam-at-the-mouth social anthems to such a hardcore conclusion that even Richie Sambora's electric guitar sounds like a superfluous addition, used mainly to control the high volume levels rather than melodic potential and rock'n'roll energy. The goddamn thing is long, too — fourteen tracks that go on forever, one demonstrative stab of one's own heart after another until you just can't help but wonder, how much soul can one heart contain, physically?
Every song on this album is soaked in sentimentality of the most blatant order: not even ol' Bruce himself probably could cram that much in 73 minutes. The band did say that they were under heavy influence from old soul and R&B records at the time, but stylistically, they sound as if they were probably just trading influences between themselves and Aerosmith: if Permanent Vacation sounded totally modelled on Slippery When Wet, then These Days takes its lessons from Get A Grip — ʽThis Ain't A Love Songʼ and ʽHearts Breaking Evenʼ in particular sound like carbon copies of ʽCrazyʼ and ʽCryingʼ, even borrowing some of Tyler's vocal moves, let alone the total similarity in arrangement and mood. Consequently, all of this sounds well tested, unimaginative, and supported only by the sheer physical strength of these guys, as if making music were in the same department as pumping iron.
As always, I make no claim about tracks like ʽHey Godʼ or ʽSomething To Believe Inʼ lacking sincerity. Sincerity is so much in the eye of the beholder that it is useless to speculate on how much Jon Bon Jovi was really worried about all the evil in the world, or on whether it is at all ethical for a millionnaire rock star to sing songs about poverty and social injustice (it is hardly a coincidence though, I guess, that both These Days and Get A Grip begin with such a song: first and foremost, the world must be shown that they really care). It is not the lack of sincerity that bothers me — it is the «overcooking» of these products, whose instrumental melodies never stray away from tattered alt-rock clichés, but whose vocal execution taxes Jon's voice to an extent where he cannot pay these taxes, yet still makes us believe that he can; check out his attempt to «gurgle» and stay in key at the same time on one of the "somethiiiiiing... to believe in!" of the «climactic» chorus — anything goes to show us just how much he cares. Who gives a damn if you're a poor songwriter? Just beat your working class breast like nobody else.
On the other flank of the love front, the band is now trying out an additional formula: stripped-down acoustic balladry with Jon in weeping troubadour mode (ʽLetting You Goʼ, ʽDiamond Ringʼ). Its effect is exactly the same, though: the songs could pass for inoffensive, unimpressive filler if not for the DRAMA in the singer's voice that immediately converts them into unlistenable crap. Maybe somebody like Willie Nelson could uncover the true potential of ʽLetting You Goʼ, but this rendition carries an instantly lethal overdose of sweetness. Just as a song with a title as pretentious as ʽMy Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Armsʼ (a monster hybrid of ʽWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsʼ and ʽLove Lies Bleeding In My Handsʼ, I suppose) carries an instantly lethal overdose of TRAGEDY GLOOM DESPERATION KILL YOURSELF NOW NOW NOW. Also, "I can't write a love song the way I feel today", he says, but then apparently today turns into tomorrow, because the very next song is a love song. Oh well.
Occasional catchiness is the only redeeming factor for this wreck of a record, but this time it is not enough to get it off the hook — These Days pretends to more seriousness than any other preceding Bon Jovi album without any musical development whatsoever. Give me a straight, no-frills, no-pretense song like ʽBad Medicineʼ over ʽSomething For The Painʼ any time of day: as I already said, New Jersey had the optimal balance between ambition and potential that these guys could ever establish for themselves, and since then it's all been downhill, and These Days is the first Bon Jovi album where I cannot fix myself a positive outlook even on one single song. Totally thumbs down to a band that should have never outlived its big hair, really.