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Metal Excess Awards 2013

2013 was an interesting year for rock/metal. Some bands delivered more than I expected them to (Stryper, Bon Jovi, Mike Tramp), a few disappointed me (Megadeth, Avenged Sevenfold, De La Cruz) and some confirmed my suspicions that they shouldn’t have released an album at all (Black Sabbath… okay, it was good but it seemed derivative of their past works).

Overall, it was a bit of a slow year for me as I focused a lot on listening to old favorites rather than having an interest in checking out and reviewing some of the latest releases.

Best Albums of 2013
1. Buckcherry – Confessions
2. Stryper – No More Hell to Pay
3. Bon Jovi – What About Now
4. Tom Keifer – The Way Life Goes
5. The Poodles – Tour de Force
6. Avantasia – The Mystery of Time
7. Reckless Love – Spirit
8. Megadeth – Super Collider
9. Jorn – Traveller
10. Mike Tramp – Cobblestone Street

Best Live Albums
1. Whitesnake – Made In Britain / The World Record
2. Dio – Finding the Sacred Heart: Live in Philly 1986
3. Def Leppard – Viva! Hysteria
4. Whitesnake – Made In Japan
5. Great White – 30 Years: Live from the Sunset Strip

Best EPs
1. Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington – High Rise
2. The 69 Eyes – Love Runs Away
3. Skid Row – United World Rebellion: Chapter One

Best Compilation/Cover Albums
1. Stryper – Second Coming
2. Kelly Clarkson – Wrapped in Red
3. Buckcherry – The Best of Buckcherry
4. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice
5. Jorn – Symphonic

Most Anticipated New Releases for 2014
Alice Cooper
Judas Priest
Motley Crue
Sebastian Bach
Whitesnake

Bon Jovi – What About Now (Deluxe Edition) [Album Review]

bon-jovi-what-about-now-album-cover-1363035575

Bon Jovi – What About Now [Deluxe Edtion]
2013, Island Records

1. “Because We Can”
2. “I’m With You”
3. “What About Now”
4. “Pictures of You”
5. “Amen”
6. “That’s What the Water Made Me”
7. “What’s Left of Me”
8. “Army of One”
9. “Thick as Thieves”
10. “Beautiful World”
11. “Room at the End of the World”
12. “The Fighter”
Bonus Tracks:
13. “With These Two Hands”
14. “Into the Echo”
15. “Not Running Anymore”

Band:
Jon Bon Jovi – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Richie Sambora – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Hugh McDonald – Bass, backing Vocals
Tico Torres – Drums
David Bryan – Keyboards, Backing vocals

Producer: John Shanks, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora

So after Greatest Hits came out in 2010 with four new tracks, I had high hopes for a new Bon Jovi studio album. Yes, I know those new tracks still represented and sounded like the “mature” and less-rocked out Bon Jovi we’ve known for the last 10 years or so, but I still liked them a lot. I guess it’s sign I’m getting older myself. Cut to the release of this album’s first single, “Because We Can”. It didn’t knock me out but I thought, “okay, this is decent”. Cut to samples of this album on Amazon.com and it sounded like such a downer and slow moving album. Granted, I was only hearing about 30 seconds of each song but my anticipating wasn’t as great anymore.

Cut to now..? I’m LOVING What About Now. It took about 3 spins before it all started to click with me. Again, this album is really no different than Have A Nice Day, Lost Highway or The Circle. It’s all within that same realm of “hey, look at us, we write thoughtful songs with social commentary and have no interest in playing hard rock anymore, so take us seriously”. But the difference here is that Bon Jovi’s need to be on the level with U2, Coldplay and (still) Bruce Springsteen is actually working for me this time.

The band is still writing anthems that the older and presumably more mature Bon Jovi demographic can enjoy (“Because We Can”, “What About Now”, “Army of One”) while still catering to the fans they gained with surprising success of the country/acoustic-tinged Lost Highway (“What’s Left of Me”, “The Fighter”). There’s also a number of mellow moments and ballads on the album. Perhaps too many but it doesn’t change the quality of the songs themselves. “Because We Can” is probably the most upbeat song on the album and I find myself wishing there were more bombastic moments like that. It’s a great way to open the album but the energy is downhill after that.

Despite the shift in style & attitude over the last decade, Bon Jovi has always offered up at least one classic sounding Bon Jovi ballad per album. I think “Thick As Thieves” is supposed to that one song on this release and while it’s a good song, it seems to fall short just a bit of what I think they were aiming for (perhaps they should’ve enlisted the aid of Desmond Child for that one).

Speaking of songwriting credits, Richie Sambora only has four credits on the standard version of the album. I won’t get too much up in arms about it because I do like the album but I think it’s a bit sad that Jon has relegated Richie (and everyone else in the band) to the status of basically being employees instead of band-mates. In this day and age, you play and write what Jon tells you to, I guess.

The bonus tracks are really good on this deluxe edition. “With These Two Hands” is another inspirational anthem, “Into the Echo” puts the band back into their thoughtful mood and “Not Running Anymore” is a somber Jon Bon Jovi song that he wrote and played solo for the movie Stand Up Guys that’s sure to please Lost Highway/Blaze of Glory fans.

While the band’s shift from hard rock & pop-metal to an adult contemporary act has been painful, with What About Now I think they’ve made the transformation a success. Is this a classic album or even what I want to hear from Bon Jovi? No, but it’s still a very good release and easily the best thing they’ve done since 2002’s Bounce.

Highlights: “Because We Can”, “I’m With You”, “Pictures of You”, “Amen”, “What About Now”, “Thick As Thieves”, “The Fighter”, “Into the Echo”, “Not Running Anymore”

http://www.bonjovi.com/
http://www.facebook.com/BonJovi

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Metal Excess Awards 2012

Despite 2012 being a year where a number of major classic rock acts reappeared with new albums (KISS, Van Halen, Aerosmith), I was slightly disappointed with the rock scene overall. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I’ve listened to less music in 2012 than I have compared to the previous 5 years or so. Whether it’s because I’m getting too old or getting too busy, I didn’t sit down and listen to or write about as much music as I have since I started this blog a few years back. I haven’t been paying attention to the world of hard rock & heavy metal as I should have. Forgive me. Maybe I can make up for it in 2013.
Anyway, here’s my contribution to the millions of “Best of 2012” lists that are already all over the internet!
Best Albums of 2012
As I said, 2012 didn’t seem like an incredibly bright year for rock releases but that doesn’t mean I’m knocking some of the cream of the crop. Rick Springfield (of all people!) delivered a classic album that I just had to give the #1 spot based on how much I played it. My Darkest Days had yet another incredibly strong release. Other than Hess at #7, the rest of the top 10 is made up of veteran artists who know how to get the job done.
1.Rick Springfield – Songs for the End of the World
2. My Darkest Days – Sick and Twisted Affair
3. KISS – Monster
4. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
5. Aerosmith – Songs from Another Dimension!
6. Adler – Back From The Dead
7. Mollo/Martin – The Third Cage
8. Hess – Living In Yesterday
9. Slash – Apocalyptic Love
10. Dokken – Broken Bones
11. Great White – Elation
12. Richie Sambora – Aftermath of the Lowdown
13. Jorn – Bring Heavy Rock to the Land
14. Jack Blades – Rock ‘N’ Roll Ride
15. Trixter – New Audio Machine
16. Lita Ford – Living Like a Runaway
17. Crazy Lixx – Riot Avenue
18. Hinder – Welcome to the Freak Show
19. Million Dollar Reload – A Sinner’s Saint
20. The Morning After – Legacy
21. Heart – Fanatic
22. Accept – Stalingrad
23. Papa Roach – The Connection
23. Zerokings – Kings of Self Destruction
24. Primal Fear – Unbreakable
25. Fozzy – Sin and Bones

Missed Them in 2012…

These are releases from 2012 that I’ve heard some songs from but I haven’t listened to the entire album yet. I wouldn’t have felt right trying to place them on the list without having heard the complete album. Look for reviews of these albums soon.

* Danko Jones – Rock and Roll is Black and Blue
* Black Country Communion – Afterglow
* L.A. Guns – Hollywood Forever (from what I’ve heard, this probably would’ve made my Top 10)
* Jettblack – Raining Rock
* The Last Vegas – Bad Decisions
* Ian Gillan & Tony Iommi: WhoCares
* Overkill – The Electric Age
* T & N – Slave to the Empire
* Lynch Mob – Sound Mountain Session EP

Best EP/Compilation/Cover/Singles

The “everything else” category.

1. Richard Marx – Christmas Spirit
2. Dio – The Very Beast of Dio, Vol. 2
3. Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby
4. John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – This Christmas
5. TSO – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) EP
6. Dee Snider – Dee Does Broadway
7. Buckcherry – “Gluttony” [single]
8. Motley Crue – “Sex” [single]
9. Wildstreet – “Easy Does It” [single]

Most Anticipated in 2013

Judas Priest:   Slated for sometime in 2013, this is easily the most anticipated album for me. I’m looking forward to and hoping Priest will deliver a classic sounding metal album and forget about overblown concept records. It’s just a shame KK Downing isn’t along for the ride but I think having some young blood in Priest might actually help push them to be heavier, harder and faster. The same thing happened when Scott Travis joined the band. I’d still love to see Downing come back at some point though. Why not have six members of Judas Priest?

Buckcherry – Confessions (Feb. 19): The lead single “Gluttony” has already been released and I’m really enjoying it. These guys do not disappoint.

My Darkest Days (fall): These guys have released two of my favorite albums from the last few years and are already writing for a follow up to last year’s Sick and Twisted Affair with a new studio album in the fall. I’m hoping the recent departure of guitarist Sal Costa wouldn’t delay the release.

Avenged Sevenfold: No timetable for a new album other than 2013. The band is supposedly going to begin recording this month.

Motley Crue: Another “sometime in 2013″ release. The question is — LP or EP? Vince Neil has mentioned it will be an EP and that’s more in line with what Tommy Lee has stated he’d like for the band to release from now on. Nikki Sixx has been referring to the next Crue release as an “album”, so I guess we’ll see. The single they released in the summer (“Sex”) was decent and seems to fit in with the modern rock turn Crue has taken since 2005.

Black Sabbath: Originally meant for 2012, all kinds of legal issues and drama have slowed this one down. Pretty stupid if they don’t end up pulling Bill Ward in but I’m interested just because I’m a fan of Iommi & Butler. In fact, bring back Ward and get rid of Ozzy and I’d feel even better about this reunion album. My preference is still for Iommi & Butler to form a new band with either Tony Martin (long shot), Jorn Lande, Ian Gillan or Glenn Hughes.

Megadeth: I dunno… Megadeth is one of my all-time favorite bands so I’m always interested but with each release I’m finding less and less to like. Yes, they are getting heavier and faster. Perhaps they are the heaviest and fastest they’ve ever been but Dave seems to be forsaking melody to do it. Seems like he’d rather go off on political rants and conspiracy theories than write memorable songs.

AC/DC: One of those bands that myself & radio have played out to the point where I’m kinda numb to them. But, Black Ice was far better than I ever imagined it could be so I’m definitely interested in new music. This past spring Malcolm Young said a new album would be out in a “year or two”. Here’s hoping it’ll be released in 2013.

Tom Keifer (spring) – I’m a big fan of Cinderella. People have been asking for a new Cinderella album for over 10 years now. I’m not sure why Tom would decide to a solo release instead but I’m not going to complain.

Deep Purple: Ian Gillan said they were planning a new release. Hopefully they follow through!

Anthrax: I think it was Joey Belladonna who stated in interview this past summer than they wanted to release something new in 2013.

Hardcore Superstar – C’mon Take On Me (March 1)

Black Veil Brides – Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones (January 8): I surprisingly enjoyed their last album. Looking forward to hearing whether they’ve kept the same sound or going even more glam/power metal than before.

Crashdiet – The Savage Playground (late January)

Bon Jovi – What About Now (March 26): I’m not a fan of the lead single, “Because We Can”. I actually haven’t been a fan of the last few albums either but I was optimistic because I liked all four new songs they released with the deluxe version of their latest greatest hits compilation. I can’t help but get excited when a new Bon Jovi album is coming out but I would not be surprised if this album was only good for a ballad or two.

Richie Sambora – Aftermath of the Lowdown [Review]

Richie Sambora – Aftermath of the Lowdown
(2012, Aggressive Music/Dangerbird Records)

1. Burn That Candle Down
2. Every Road Leads Home to You
3. Taking a Chance On the Wind
4. Nowadays
5. Weathering the Storm
6. Sugar Daddy
7. I’ll Always Walk Beside You
8. Seven Years Gone
9. Learning How to Fly With a Broken Wing
10. You Can Only Get So High
11. World

Musicians:
Richie Sambora – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rusty Anderson – Guitar
Curt Schneider – Bass
Aaron Sterling – Drums
Luke Ebbin – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. – Keyboards
Matt Rollings – Organ, Piano

Producer: Richie Sambora & Luke Ebbin

Richie’s third solo effort but 14 years since the previous release, Richie Sambora has seen fit unleashed Aftermath of the Lowdown on the world. Probably an outlet for songs he knows Jon would never allow on a Bon Jovi album though there are a few tracks here I could see making it like the lead single “Every Road Leads Home to You”, “Learning to Fly with a Broken Wing” and the ballad “Seven Years Gone”.

The album is kind of all over the place in terms of style. “Burn That Candle Down” has a 1970s Hendrix/Deep Purple vibe to it, “Every Road Leads Home to You” is pure Bon Jovi (you can definitely hear Jon singing this one), “Taking a Chance on the Wind” is rock ‘n’ roll with some soul behind it, “Nowadays” is somewhat punky & poppy, “I’ll Always Walk Beside You” sounds like Coldplay, “World” sounds like Bowie, etc.

“Weathering the Storm” is another song that sounds similar to modern Bon Jovi. Richie even seems like he’s trying to sound like Jon so I’m assuming maybe this was written with Bon Jovi in mind. It was co-written with Bernie Taupin though, who is a long-time collaborator with Elton John.

Don’t get me wrong though, I like Jon Bon Jovi’s voice but Richie is a better singer. “Every Road Leads Home to You” and “Seven Years Gone” wouldn’t be nearly as good without Richie’s powerful, emotional soulful performances.

Even if the sounds may have been inspired by other acts, some of these songs just have to be autobiographical lyrically such as “You Can Only Get So High” and maybe even the album title itself. Richie had some alcohol issues in recent years so other than recording songs that may have not been recorded anywhere else, I’m sure this album was very cathartic for him in dealing with his alcoholism and relationship troubles.

It’s a good album and while there are some similarities to Bon Jovi with a couple of songs, there’s enough variety here and true bluesy emotion coming through Richie so that the album doesn’t come off like a bunch of unreleased Bon Jovi tracks.

Highlights: “Burn That Candle Down”, “Every Road Leads Home to You”, “I’ll Always Walk Beside You”, “Seven Years Gone”, “You Can Only Get So High”, “World”

www.richiesambora.com
www.facebook.com/TheRealSambora
Buy the album at Amazon.com

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet (1986, Mercury Records)

1. “Let It Rock” … 5:25
2. “You Give Love a Bad Name” … 3:44
3. “Livin’ on a Prayer” … 4:09
4. “Social Disease” … 4:18
5. “Wanted Dead or Alive” … 5:08
6. “Raise Your Hands” … 4:16
7. “Without Love” … 3:30
8. “I’d Die for You” … 4:30
9. “Never Say Goodbye” … 4:48
10. “Wild in the Streets” … 3:54

Band:
Jon Bon Jovi – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Richie Sambora – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Alec John Such – Bass, Backing Vocals
Tico Torres – Drums
David Bryan – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Producer: Bruce Fairbairn

Hard to believe I haven’t spoken about this ’80s classic yet! In fact, this is one of the best rock albums of all time, in my opinion. Alongside other multi-platinum ’80s hard rock monsters like Back In Black, Pyromania and Appetite for Destruction, Slippery When Wet was a game changer and has continued to influence bands up until today.

When I first got into the CD game, this was one of the first CDs I owned because Bon Jovi was one of the first bands I got into when I actually started taking an interest in music (Guns ‘N Roses & Poison were my other early faves as a teenager). Still, I have remembrances of this album when I was a kid. This was an album that you would’ve had to have been deaf to avoid in ’86/’87. MTV, radio, skating rinks, school dances, my sister’s stereo… It was all over the place!

Some of the songs have aged worse than others because of the keyboards (“Without Love”, “I’d Die For You”) but I still say every track is a classic and they’ll all have you singing along in no time. Virtually any song here could’ve been a hit if it went to radio. Slippery When Wet is to Bon Jovi what Hysteria is to Def Leppard and the 12x platinum sales in the U.S. alone prove it.

The funny thing is, it’s been said that had this album not been successful, the story goes Bon Jovi was more than likely going to be dropped by the record label because the last two albums weren’t big hits (only the self-titled debut made a ripple) and this was basically their last chance. The label told the label to work with Desmond Child as a co-writer and gave them solid but then-unknown producer Bruce Fairbairn (with engineering by a young Bob Rock) and the rest is history…

Timeless and yet still a sign of the times (this album always makes me think of the typical ’80s mall) Slippery When Wet is a pop-metal masterpiece (yes, Jon, you were once a pop-metal band) that I’ll always keep coming back to. Essential listening for ’80s rock fans.

Highlights: Um… All of them.

http://www.bonjovi.com/
http://www.facebook.com/BonJovi

Buy ‘Slippery When Wet’ on Amazon.com

Bon Jovi – Greatest Hits – The Ultimate Collection

Bon Jovi – Greatest Hits – The Ultimate Collection (2010, Island Records)

Disc 1
1. “Livin’ on a Prayer” … 4:13
2. “You Give Love a Bad Name” … 3:46
3. “It’s My Life” … 3:46
4. “Have a Nice Day” … 3:48
5. “Wanted Dead or Alive” … 5:11
6. “Bad Medicine” … 5:16
7. “We Weren’t Born to Follow” … 4:03
8. “I’ll Be There for You” … 5:46
9. “Born to Be My Baby” … 4:40
10. “Blaze of Glory” … 5:40
11. “Who Says You Can’t Go Home (Duet With Jennifer Nettles)” … 3:50
12. “Lay Your Hands on Me” … 3:49
13. “Always” … 5:56
14. “Runaway” … 3:53
15. “What Do You Got?” … 3:47
16. “No Apologies” … 3:44

Disc 2
1. “In These Arms” … 5:19
2. “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” … 4:39
3. “Lost Highway” … 4:04
4. “Keep the Faith” … 5:46
5. “When We Were Beautiful” … 4:10
6. “Bed of Roses” … 6:38
7. “This Ain’t a Love Song” … 5:06
8. “These Days” … 6:27
9. “(You Want To) Make a Memory” … 4:36
10. “Blood on Blood” … 6:16
11. “This Is Love, This Is Life” … 3:25
12. “The More Things Change” … 3:53

I’m a huge Bon Jovi fan. They’re one of my favorite bands, which is funny because I really can’t stand their last few albums and their shift towards country and adult contemporary rock/pop. Also, I’ve become somewhat jaded because it’s more obvious than ever that the band is really a brand and it’s completely Jon’s show to run. I think as he’s getting older, Jon has started to come off as a bitter guy for whatever reason, he denounces the ’80s hair metal scene they were fully-fledged members of at one time and he just seems to be on a power trip with only Richie having the smallest say in what the band does. To me, their last decent effort was 2002’s Bounce and with a few song exceptions, anything they’ve done since has been extremely bland and lacks the hooks and catchy choruses they built their name on in the ’80s and ’90s.

So anyway, this is the band’s fourth compilation album. Though to most fans, it’s really more like their second legit straight-forward compilation. 2003’s This Left Feels Right was an acoustic reworking of many of their best known songs and 2001 saw a Japan-only greatest hits released called Tokyo Road. The very first compilation was Cross Road. It was released in 1994 so given that the band has had a number of hit songs and albums since then, it was definitely time for another recap.

The tracklist is pretty solid. Sure there are personal favorites I could say I would have liked to seen included but keeping with the “greatest hits” theme, the album does it’s job. Especially in the Ultimate Collection form. It reads like a set list of what you would probably hear the band play in concert these days. I was caught off guard by “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” (which was a new song included on Cross Road) and These Days getting two songs included but it’s cool because I like all three of those songs. The only studio album not represented on any of the U.S. releases is 7800° Fahrenheit (“In and Out of Love” and “Tokyo Road” appear on international versions).

There are a few different versions of this album. First there is the simply titled Greatest Hits, which is just disc one (featuring two new songs). Then there is Greatest Hits – The Ultimate Collection which features a second disc (and two more new songs). Then there’s also a Target edition of Greatest Hits which has all of disc one plus live versions of “Diamond Ring” and “We Weren’t Born to Follow”. Then the iTunes version features all the material from disc one and two plus a 5th new song called “This Is Our House”.

I definitely wanted The Ultimate Collection because all four new songs were slowly being released on the band’s website for streaming and I liked them all a lot. Someone pointed out to me that they all sounded like modern Bon Jovi (which we’ve already covered I don’t like) and I guess they are right. Maybe I’m just ready to like Bon Jovi again? Who knows! “What Do You Got?” is my favorite of the new songs but I think they’re all good. Maybe not songs that can compare to their classics but very good for modern day Bon Jovi, I think. So I’m happy with my purchase. I’m enjoying the new stuff and while I don’t usually bother listening to compilations these days, you really can’t go wrong with a collection of Bon Jovi’s greatest hits.

http://www.bonjovi.com
http://www.facebook.com/BonJovi
http://www.myspace.com/bonjovi

The Best Albums of the 2000s

Welcome to 2010!

I’m going to start the year off with yet another list except I won’t be limiting myself to “Top 10” or “Top 20” or whatever. I’ll be going chronologically, year by year (I didn’t put the albums in any specific order though) and if I thought it was a really good album, I’ll list it regardless of whether one year has four albums listed and another year only has two.

Looking back, the whole decade was pretty good for this rock/metal fan. The scene suffered greatly during the ’90s, but by 2000, the genre was turning the corner and I think most people had grown tired of depressed drug addicts and angry no-talent white rappers playing rock music. The legends were laying low during the ’90s and the next decade was made up of many comebacks, but that’s not to discount many newer acts who stepped up and played a vital role in rock ‘n’ roll.

2000
Marvelous 3 – ReadySexGo
Halford – Resurrection
Bon Jovi – Crush
Cold – 13 Ways to Bleed on Stage
The Union Underground – …An Education in Rebellion
Alice Cooper – Brutal Planet

2001
Puddle of Mudd – Come Clean
Megadeth – The World Needs a Hero
Alice Cooper – Dragontown
Lit – Atomic

2002
Dio – Killing the Dragon
Butch Walker – Left of Self-Centered
Bon Jovi – Bounce
Sentenced – The Cold White Light
L.A. Guns – Waking the Dead

2003
Anthrax – We’ve Come For You All
Alice Cooper – The Eyes of Alice Cooper
Dream Evil – Evilized

2004
Scorpions – Unbreakable
Megadeth – The System Has Failed
Tesla – Into the Now
Dream Evil – The Book of Heavy Metal
Brides of Destruction – Here Come the Brides

2005
Judas Priest – Angel of Retribution
Alice Cooper – Dirty Diamonds

2006
Edguy – Rocket Ride
Paul Stanley – Live to Win

2007
Avenged Sevenfold – Avenged Sevenfold
Sebastian Bach – Angel Down
Scorpions – Humanity: Hour I

2008
Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy
Edguy – Tinnitus Sanctus
Whitesnake – Good to Be Bad

2009
KISS – Sonic Boom
Steel Panther – Feel the Steel

Most Disappointing Albums of 2009

Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot

I’m surprised this album is showing up on so many “best of 2009” lists because upon its release, I didn’t see a lot of glowing reviews. In some ways, this album is exactly what I expected — a competent yet lifeless release. Not that anyone believed him, but Sammy did the band no favors by claiming Chickenfoot was creating music as good as or better than Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. Perhaps he was referring to Van Halen III. Because, yeah, I’ll give him that — this album is better than Van Halen III. These guys are are professionals and rock legends and I think its great the album has gone gold, but it just didn’t gel for me. I didn’t hear any magic or chemistry. I’m thinking maybe Satriani is the problem and that the band needed someone who had a more loose, rock ‘n’ roll style.

Bon Jovi – The Circle

Okay, so I guess I shouldn’t have been disappointed because the last two Bon Jovi albums have been really lame, but I always hold out hope for these guys considering they’ve one of my favorite bands of all time. The fact that Jon was touting The Circle as a “big rock record” and a return to form really got my hopes up. In one interview, he even likened the album to the band’s ’80s stuff. Um, okay, Jon, what are you listening to because you definitely weren’t spinning New Jersey or Slippery When Wet when trying to get inspired for The Circle. You’ve lost it, man. You can’t write a catchy hard rock stadium anthem to save your life, can you? Richie’s lost it too and I’m starting to think so has Desmond Child.

Tim Ripper Owens – Play My Game

I debated whether to consider this “disappointing” or not but what the heck — it isn’t bad, but it isn’t what I hoped for either. Considering the talent involved, this should’ve been much better and in the long run, there just weren’t many memorable songs (trying to sound too modern) and I don’t think Owens’ voice was properly utilized.

The Last Vegas – Whatever Gets You Off

The Last Vegas is a shining example of the future of rock ‘n’ roll being strong but this release was just plain lazy with six of the eleven songs released just one year prior on the band’s self-released album. The songs are good and I can understand the band wanting to show off some of their best self-released work once getting signed to a label but did they really need to eat up half the album to do that?

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

How could this be? The Devil You Know landed at #9 on my Top 10 of 2009 list! Yes, but given that this is the same band that released Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules and Dehumanizer as Black Sabbath, I couldn’t help but think this album was way too slow and not heavy enough. It’s a respectable effort but doesn’t come close to previous works.

BON JOVI – The Circle

Bon Jovi – The Circle [Deluxe CD/DVD Limited Edition] (2009, Island Records)

CD:
1. “We Weren’t Born to Follow” … 4:03
2. “When We Were Beautiful” … 5:18
3. “Work for the Working Man” … 4:03
4. “Superman Tonight” … 5:12
5. “Bullet” … 3:50
6. “Thorn In My Side” … 4:05
7. “Live Before You Die” …  4:18
8. “Brokenpromiseland” … 4:57
9. “Love’s the Only Rule” … 4:38
10. “Fast Cars” … 3:16
11. “Happy Now” … 4:21
12. “Learn to Love” … 4:39

DVD:
When We Were Beautiful – Documentary

Band:
Jon Bon Jovi – Lead Vocals
Richie Sambora – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Tico Torres – Drums, Percussion
David Bryan – Keyboards, Piano

Additional Musicians:
Hugh McDonald – Bass
Charlie Judge – Keyboards

Producer: John Shanks with Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora

It’s hard to believe after only releasing two albums in the 1990s that Bon Jovi is now on their fifth studio release in the 2000s alone (The Circle is actually their sixth studio release if you want to count their acoustic reworkings of their own songs on This Left Feels Right). And I haven’t even mentioned the live album and box set they released this decade! So yes, the band has been extremely active this decade with a steady stream of albums and world tours that sell out wherever they go.

The downside to all of this? Their music overall hasn’t been up to snuff with their ’80s or even ’90s output. Their “comeback” album Crush was great, different but great. Bounce rocked harder and was really good. After that, the band has turned into a bland rock band that doesn’t really rock at all and they’ve dabbled way too much in country rock in an attempt to stay relevant (but it worked for a bit, so what do I know?).

In hype for this album, Jon and Richie promised they were done with Nashville and that the album’s title was a reference to the band coming full circle and getting back to rock ‘n’ roll and that they were giving us a “big rock record”. Well, I can tell you this much — thankfully, most signs of Lost Highway are gone (perhaps lost?). I wouldn’t say this album is “big rock” at all, but it is a better effort than Have a Nice Day even if it still sounds similar to that release. I had been hoping this would be closer to Bounce (“Bullet” comes close), but no dice.

I realize that the band is laughing all the way to the bank with the steady stream of bland, safe rock ‘n’ roll made for their soccer mom fans, but I really wish these guys would pay attention to the minority of fans that want a harder edge and huge sing-along choruses. I don’t expect a sequel to Slippery When Wet or New Jersey (though the band does offer up the bass line from “Livin’ On A Prayer” for “Work for the Working Man”), I don’t want a nostalgia release, but throw me a few bones! Give me a couple of songs that have that feel good over the top vibe that band had up until Keep the Faith.

Noticeably absent is the classic Bon Jovi sounding ballad that doesn’t care what decade it is. Even on the awful Lost Highway the band managed to squeeze out the under appreciated “(You Want to) Make a Memory”. Desmond Child co-wrote that song and he helps out a bit on this album, but even his involvement can’t save this album.

Ultimately, The Circle is another collection of mediocre, thoughtful and mature rock songs (Just like U2!) that don’t please this old school Bon Jovi fan and I can’t imagine reaching for this album in the future.

The CD/DVD limited edition comes with the 75 minute B&W documentary When We Were Beautiful, which follows the band on their Lost Highway tour from 2007. It’s a pretty interesting look into the workings of the band.

Highlights: “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, “Work for the Working Man”, “Bullet”, “Brokenpromiseland”, “Happy Now”

www.bonjovi.com
www.myspace.com/bonjovi

BON JOVI – Keep the Faith

Bon Jovi – Keep the Faith (1992, Mercury Records)

1. “I Believe” … 5:58
2. “Keep the Faith” … 5:46
3. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” … 4:43
4. “In These Arms” … 5:19
5. “Bed of Roses” … 6:34
6. “If I Was Your Mother” … 4:27
7. “Dry County” … 9:52
8. “Woman in Love” … 3:48
9. “Fear” … 3:06
10. “I Want You” … 5:46
11. “Blame it on the Love of Rock and Roll” … 4:24
12. “Little Bit of Soul” … 5:44

Band:
Jon Bon Jovi – Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitar, Percussion
Richie Sambora – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Alec John Such – Bass, Backing Vocals
Tico Torres – Drums, Percussion
David Bryan – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Producer: Bob “Let’s Not” Rock

Four years after the band peaked with New Jersey, here comes the slide into mediocrity (which would be fully explored in the 2000s). This album is a mixed bag (the first half is good, most of the rest is filler), but it signaled a somber, more mature sound that would be taken even further with These Days from 1995. In general, Keep the Faith shows the band’s decision to rock a little less and age into an adult contemporary rock act.

Filler starts popping up with “If I Was Your Mother”, but the excellent & epic “Dry County” (Bon Jovi going the Springsteen/Mellencamp route) and “I Want You” (a power ballad that would sound right at home on Slippery When Wet or New Jersey) and worth skipping too. Outside of those two songs, the second half of this album features some of my least favorite Bon Jovi songs.

The odd thing is, the album overall shows the band getting softer and slower, but “If I Was Your Mother” and “Fear” are two of the heaviest songs the band has ever done. Perhaps they were trying to compensate for the rest of the album?

Highlights: “I Believe”, “Keep the Faith”, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, “In These Arms”, “Bed of Roses”, “Dry County”, “I Want You”

www.bonjovi.com
www.myspace.com/bonjovi

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