Formed in New Jersey, the group’s initial line-up was singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres, keyboardist David Bryan and bassist Alec John Such. These were the five behind the band’s first four albums, including the wildly successful “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey” records of 1986 and 1988 respectively.
Following the “Jersey Syndicate Tour”, which ran from 1998 through to 1991 the band took a short hiatus before reconvening for the less hard rock sounding “Keep The Faith” album in 1992.
After the release of the “Cross Road” greatest hits album in 1994 bassist Such departed and bass duties were taken over by Hugh McDonald – though despite appearing on all the band’s records and tours since then McDonald is not officially a band member, even now twenty-one years later.
1995 saw the release of the darker “These Days” record, and then the band took a four year break before starting work on their next studio album “Crush”.
Since then, at least in terms of simple sales figures, the band’s albums have been on a downward trajectory. Although chart positions for each subsequent record, both in the UK and the US, have been either number 1 or 2, physical sales have continued to decline. This will undoubtedly be partly due to the modern culture of downloading music for free from the internet.
However, from my perspective, each album has become a little less vital and memorable than the last, and even though each has had at least one or two decent songs, I felt in fact that the best track on the band’s 2013 “What About Now” was the bonus track “Every Road Leads Home To You” which wasn’t a group recording at all, as it had been a single and album track from Richie Sambora’s solo album “Aftermath Of The Lowdown” the previous year.
Having temporarily been absent for a run of live shows in 2011 to go into rehab, Sambora was reported to have bailed out on the band’s 2013 tour after the initial run of North American dates, for unspecified reasons. Perhaps more rehab, perhaps suffering burnout from all the beautiful women he has had to deal with (actresses Heather Locklear and Denise Richards, manager Nikki Lund and now fellow guitarist Orianthi… I know, life’s tough, right?). Bon Jovi stated in late 2014 that Sambora was no longer in the band, saying “He’s quit, he’s gone, no hard feelings”, whilst Sambora himself said “…I still see the possibility of a return”.
Sadly, it seems that – at least for the time being – Sambora is history. This is a great shame because not only did he contribute some great songwriting and superb guitar playing, but he is also a great singer in his own right (when he took lead vocals on a track during the band’s gigs it was usually a highlight of the show for me) and is arguably a better singer than Bon Jovi himself!
In addition the band have now parted company with record label Mercury after a thirty-two year relationship, with the last release on the label being the new album, the band’s thirteenth studio release, “Burning Bridges”, described by Bon Jovi as a “fan album”, stating that “it’s songs that weren’t finished, that were finished, a couple of new ones like the one we released as a single (“We Don’t Run”), it’s sort of a hint as to where we’re going musically, but the new album, the real new album, will be early next year.” It’s also undeniably designed to finish the band’s contractual obligation to the label.
So, with all that in mind, is the record any good? Does it sound like an album or just a collection out outtakes from various recording sessions? Is album number thirteen lucky or unlucky?
According to the band’s website the musicians involved in the recording of these songs are Bon Jovi, Bryan, Torres and McDonald with guitar duties being handled by co-producer John Shanks.
So we must presume that one the songs that Bon Jovi stated “were finished” he has had Sambora’s contributions removed and replaced by Shanks, even on “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning” the one that Bon Jovi, Shanks and Sambora wrote together? Seems a little harsh given that this is supposedly a fan album. Mind you, that in itself begs the question who exactly are all the other records for?! Perhaps the truth of the matter is that previously unused songs and ideas were rehashed and completely re-recorded by those listed above.
Whatever, what about the music itself? Well, “We Don’t Run” starts off badly with a Europop sound but soon starts to rock nicely enough, although the chorus is still too poppy in sound for my liking.
The aforementioned “Sunday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning” is good, and features a great guitar solo from Shanks. “Who Would You Die For” meanwhile, despite some more poppy sounds is actually sonically in the same general territory as the “These Days” record and again benefits from some great guitar work from Shanks in that latter stages.
Less positively, the mainly acoustic “Fingerprints” seems longer than its six-minute duration and some of the lyrics throughout the album are somewhat throwaway.
Final track “Burning Bridges” is a country-style singalong which aims Bon Jovi’s scorn at Mercury, with lines like “…after thirty years of loyalty, they let you dig the grave. Well I’ll give you half the publishing. You’re why I wrote this song. See you all in hell…”. Now, whatever the disagreements may have been between band and label that lead to them ending their association this seems a little over the top – after all Bon Jovi has become a very, very rich man thanks at least in part to the efforts and support of that very label, certainly in the lean early days.
Ultimately, this isn’t a bad album and it does actually come across as an album rather than collection of unused stuff – although the pacing is a little off, starting with a ballad. The performances are all shiny and professional and the songs pleasant enough with one or two pretty decent ones. But this is never going to be regarded as a classic Bon Jovi album in my book.
I have been a fan of this band since the mid 80s, have all their albums and have been to see them in concert several times over the years too. Now that they are, effectively, reduced to the singer, the drummer and the keyboard player where do they go from here with next year’s proper new album?
Perhaps the loss of Sambora will lead Bon Jovi to up his game. Maybe they will strive for greatness once again or try something new – but maybe it’ll be, rather like this stop-gap album, business as usual with the emphasis seemingly on the business rather than the rock ‘n’ roll. Time will tell…
“Burning Bridges” tracklist:
A Teardrop To The Sea / 2. We Don’t Run / 3. Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning / 4. We All Fall Down / 5. Blind Love / 6. Who Would You Die For / 7. Fingerprints / 8. Life Is Beautiful / 9. I’m Your Man / 10. Burning Bridges