Without a song throws a spotlight on bands, albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.
In 1995, the world of rock was a radically different place to the one it had been at the height of Bon Jovi’s popularity in the late 1980’s. For one, Kurt Cobain had been thrust into the role of grunge poster boy and then had just as quickly ended it all, changing the landscape of guitar music in his wake. An alternative miserabalist/realist outlook had permeated the mainstream.
Whether because of – or despite – this change in the prevailing mood, Bon Jovi had started to overhaul the tone of their music and image with 1992’s Keep The Faith. Gone were the poodle perms of old and in their place had come leaner cuts and less flamboyant threads. Gone were the overwrought cliches of having “seen a million faces and rocked them all,” newly apparent were a greater depth of feeling and a more nuanced outlook in their character sketches. And in “Dry County” they had recorded a near ten minute epic that came as close as the New Jersey rockers ever have to emulating their home state superstar, Bruce Springsteen.
Following the release of their greatest hits package, Crossroad, the group took this new development to the next level. Upon it’s release These Days was received with mixed reviews. A more muscular guitar sound and dense production, combined with decidedly downbeat lyrics, made many wonder where the good time bar band they had come to know and love had disappeared to. But for others, the album represented what many had thought the band capable of if they would only try; something akin to an artistic statement.
The first album the group recorded without bassist Alec Jon Such, this was Bon Jovi’s “dark” record. On opening track “Hey God” a family man reels at the deity and the world that have left him on the brink of homelessness. During “Something to Believe In” our narrator is on a quest for faith, whilst during its counterpart, “Something for the Pain”, he is worshiping at a different altar altogether.
This previously unheard of depth and diversity continues with album centrepiece, “My Guitar Lies Bleeding in my Arms”. The lyric of the song seems to explicitly discuss the changing nature of Bon Jovi’s world: “I can’t write a love song, the way I feel today. I can’t sing no song of hope, I got nothing to say.” For a man who has built a multi-million dollar career from penning power ballads, that’s no small admission. Accompanied by some subtle guitar licks and a powerful central section that sees the most punishing sound Richie Sambora has wrangled from his guitar since “If I was your Mother”, it is perhaps the most affecting track on the album.
Musically and artistically the group have never again achieved the same level of success in their recorded output, even if they have continued to be a cash cow. Later career missteps, like the largely acoustic album This Left Feels Right which saw them reinterpret their own back catalogue, or the bland country-tinged rock of Lost Highway, haven’t done much to broaden their horizons or deepen anyone’s understanding of their craft. Richie Sambora was more successful in that regard on his second solo outing, Undiscovered Soul. But the one-two of Keep the Faith and These Days are a fine legacy from the Garden State’s second most successful sons.