7800° Farenheit (Mercury ‘85) Rating: B-
The first three songs here are supremely catchy if completely derivative: “In And Out Of Love” recalls Van Halen’s party-on vibe, while “Price Of Love” and “Only Lonely” are effective if melodramatic mid-tempo numbers that could’ve been written by Journey. Those guilty pleasures are this album’s high points, though the keyboard-driven power ballad “Silent Night” was another lighter inducing concert favorite. Elsewhere, most of this sophomore set sees a young band still trying to find their way, though cheesy but catchy songs such as “Tokyo Road,” “The Hardest Part Is The Night,” and “Secret Dreams” are worth hearing as well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for filler tracks “King Of The Mountain,” “Always Run To You,” and especially “To The Fire.” Still, despite its inconsistency this rarely remembered album started the Bon Jovi express rolling; their next album would make them worldwide superstars.
Slippery When Wet (Mercury ‘86) Rating: B+
Would Bon Jovi have sold millions upon millions of records if Jon Bon Jovi wasn’t so good looking? Of course not! Welcome to the world of MTV. Benefiting greatly from that ever-popular visual medium, Bon Jovi became a household name. The music? Well, if you don’t take it too seriously this album is actually good, clean fun. I mean, several of these pop metal songs are catchy as hell, and if you can get past the cliched lyrics present on virtually every song here you’ll probably find yourself enjoying this stuff despite your good taste. On the down side, like all Bon Jovi albums Slippery When Wet isn’t without some filler tracks (“Social Disease,” “Without Love”), and the band can occasionally come across as Bruce Springsteen-wannabes (they even steal his “can’t start a fire without a spark” line). However, most of Slippery When Wet contains radio friendly songs that are hard not to like, propelled in part by Bruce Fairburn’s sleekly powerful production. Highlights include the massive hair metal hits “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer,” as well as their definitive power ballad “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” These three songs have proven to be surprisingly durable, each continuing to make the rounds on classic rock radio many years later. “Let It Rock” and “Raise Your Hands” also deliver catchy sing along choruses that played well to the bigger arenas the band had now graduated to, while the power ballad “Never Say Goodbye” became an instant prom song standard.
CrossRoad: The Best Of Bon Jovi (Mercury ‘94) Rating: B+ I guess when all is said and done Bon Jovi are a singles band, but the problem is that even their singles are no sure things. At their best the band is mindlessly catchy (“Runaway,” “In And Out Of Love,” “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name,” “Bad Medicine”), at their worst laughably mindless (“Born To Be My Baby,” “I’ll Be There For You” – both of which I still like anyway). In addition to a couple of new tracks (including the hit ballad “Always”) we get an inferior new version of “Livin’ On A Prayer” called “Prayer ‘94” (the original version is also included) and Jon’s #1 solo hit “Blaze Of Glory,” where he pretends he’s a cowboy a la “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” a far superior song that’s also included (“Blaze Of Glory” is good too, though, in large part due to Jeff Beck guesting on guitar). I personally would’ve preferred Cross Road to include "Living In Sin" (I've always had a soft spot for that ultra-cheesy "power ballad") and the legitimately great "In These Arms," not to mention more material from the bands early years, as this collection contains only one song apiece from their relatively raw debut and 7800° Farenheit. I gotta admit that I’m a bit baffled by this band’s continued commercial success even as all the other "hair metal" bands fell by the wayside (I mean, Jon wasn’t the only one who got himself a haircut!), but the band does have a knack for easily obtainable hooks and singable choruses. Of course, the band also has obvious weaknesses (I defy anybody to come up with more clichés than this band) that are sometimes hard to overlook, but Cross Road provides a satisfying career overview up until this point that generally showcases the band’s strengths. Note: The “international” release of this album improves upon the North American release by swapping “Prayer ‘94” for “In These Arms” and adding “Never Say Goodbye.”