Review Summary: A strong formative album from a band that would soon go on to fame and fortune. Cheesy, yes, but insanely addictive.
Bon Jovi. One of the most widely ridiculed bands of 80’s hair rock (along the likes of Europe or Poison), they nevertheless – like the aforementioned bands – managed to score a plethora of hits in the ten-year spectrum of 1985 – 1995. However, before Slippery When Wet
brought along fame, fortune and superstardom (and girls, don’t forget girls!), Bon Jovi were just another aspiring New York band.
Well, not exactly «just another» band. After all, their lead singer, Jon Bon Jovi, was the son of renowned NY producer Tony Bongiovi. And he did
collaborate with professional songwriters on his songs. So Bon Jovi were a notch above their peers when it came to chances to succeed.
Still, their 1984 debut is best viewed as a formative album. Jon and fellow co-founder David Bryan (Rashbaum) were still groping around looking for their sound, which by this time was lost somewhere between mainstream 80’s pop and the then-incipient glam-rock scene. That explains why tunes on this album range from the pure synthesized 80’s pop of Burning for Love
(with Tico Torres’ drums sounding like an electronic drum machine) and the all-out arena rock of Get Ready
Still, lack of direction notwithstanding, this is an excellent album. The playing is focused, the vocals are self-assured and pleasant, and the choruses are HUGE. Jon’s backing band is tight, with Bryan’s keyboard hogging the spotlight, but sometimes being pushed aside by the heavy guitar riffs of a certain Mr. Richie Sambora. Sambora first introduces himself on the second track, Roulette
was recorded with an entirely different band) and he makes quite a powerful first impression, with a solid, heavy hard rock riff. The heaviness is then mellowed out by Bryan’s omnipresent keyboard, but it helps provide the edge to such songs as Roulette
, Get Ready
or even power ballad Love Lies
. His soloing is also good; never too show-offy, but technical enough to impress seasoned hard-rockers.
The rest of the band is bassist Alec John Such – who, like 90% of other bassists, merely does what is asked of him – and drummer Tico Torres (who, as noted above, sometimes sounds like a drum machine, mostly due to his alarming tendency to NOT
use the crash cymbal, or for that matter, any cymbal at all
). With the two constituting a solid rhythm section, the dividing factor is inevitably Jon Bon’s voice. As we all know, it’s mellow. Too
mellow. At a time when singers such as Vince Neil and Steven Tyler were wailing their way into timpani everywhere, Jon prefers to adopt a smoother tone that aims for every young girl’s heart. This makes his lyrical attempts at bravado – Get Ready
– sound a bit limp, but works perfectly in the more «romantic» songs, which explains why girls everywhere took to him like bees to honey, but also why most hard rockers will have nothing to do with him.
And then there are the professional songwriters. The fact that each of these nine songs was carefully crafted to be a radio hit detracts considerably from Jon & Co’s street cred. No wonder the best songs – to hard rock ears – are the ones where Jon and band are left to their own songwriting devices. Those are the tracks in which the band’s rocking capability reveals itself in the fullest, with Sambora’s huge riffs finally coming through.
Still, as I have said, the keyboard is the domineering element in these compositions. No wonder a keyboard is the first instrument we hear on this record – in this case played by the keyboardist for the E Street Band. It is the lead-in to Bon Jovi’s first bona fide hit, Runaway
, and it has the strange particularity of not
being performed by Bon Jovi. Sure, it’s Jon singing, but his backing band is an entirely different ensemble called the All-Star Review. This explains why the bass is much more intervenient, popping up from time to time with some quality fills. Overall, a strong track, although unashamedly poppy in its nature.
The glam factor is somewhat increased by following track Roulette
, the first where the actual band play together, only to be brought down low again by the over-sappy cover of She Don’t Know Me
and another very poppy number (with a huge chorus), Shot Through The Heart
. Then it’s power-ballad time with Love Lies
– a pretty good representative of the genre and only on track 6 does the glam aspect come up again. Breakout
is the glammiest, Los Angeles-iest track here, and it could have been a Poison outtake. However, seventh track Hungry for Love
, wouldn’t sound awkward in the hands of any 80’s pop-rock artist. Torres’ drums are at their most synthetic, and listening to the track brings forth images of cheesy VH1 video-clips. Fortunately, the remaining two tracks up the hard rock ante once more and make a whopping double-punch finale. Come Back
– the absolute BEST chorus on the album – and the aforementioned Get Ready
finally make hard rockers glad they stuck by for the duration of this album, simultaneously providing a nice bridge to the band’s later hard rock sound.
All in all, then, Bon Jovi’s first album is a solid effort, much better than the tripe the band has been putting out lately, but suffers a bit from lack of definition. The band hadn’t settled on what sonic route to follow just yet – a common situation in formative albums like this – but were quickly honing their writing skills, providing a good bunch of strong tracks for this eponymous debut.
PS: Aldo Nova is reportedly here somewhere, but I still haven’t been able to find him.
Shot Through The Heart