It has been a bizarre time to be a Bon Jovi fan, and it isn't too difficult for those rock listeners who have been left outside of the feud between lead vocalist and main man Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora to understand why. After Jon gave Sambora an ultimatum, which would either result in the founding guitar player heading back out on the road and into the studio or spending time with his family and being kicked out of the band, Sambora chose the latter. The remaining members of Bon Jovi would then head back on tour with the aid of guitarist Phil X without actually naming him as the official replacement for Sambora, before heading into the recording studio to record and release the band's thirteenth album ‘Burning Bridges’.
The release of a 13th Bon Jovi studio album won’t change many minds. After a three-decade career, most listeners have already formed an opinion on the New Jersey rockers’ rousing stadium-filling choruses. A new album offers little more than a fresh excuse to refill the coffers and add a few more set fillers to a multimillion-dollar touring juggernaut that is still dining out on 1980’s anthems.
So what, right? Most casual fans need relentlessly reminding that – despite the egotistical name – Bon Jovi are a band, not one man, and Jon Bon Jovi wrote most of said band’s biggest hits alongside a certain sparring partner. It’s not quite in the same league as Mick touting The Stones sans Keith, but a Sambora-less Bon Jovi is a significant loss, for sure – more akin, perhaps, to Axl Rose fronting Guns N’ Roses without Slash (a sacrilege many fans will never forgive).
If Sambora’s departure offered any chances for the remaining band members to reconnect or reinvent themselves, they have been squarely ignored. JBJ, for example, could have revisited the confessionalism of his 1997 solo album, Destination Anywhere’. Keyboard player David Bryan – the composer behind Broadway musical ‘Memphis’ – might finally have been given a moment to shine. They could have tried, well, something new. Instead, ‘Burning Bridges’ is the sound of a band at its least inspired – many of these tunes are cast-offs from old sessions, dusted off and, presumably, spitefully overdubbed with new guitar parts (no credits are included).
The acoustic ‘Fingerprints’ treads water for six, leaden minutes, despite opening with finger-picked guitar reminiscent of the classic ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’. Stomp-rocker ‘Who Would You Die For’ lumbers along like a lorry struggling up a steep hill. “I’m not afraid of burning bridges, because I know they’re going to light my way,” wails JBJ on ‘We Don’t Run’, twice, which comes complete with a shredding, 1980s-style guitar solo, concocted solely to rub Sambora’s face in it. Still bloody good though!.And perhaps that’s the point – proof that it’s business as usual, that JBJ can continue to churn out by-the-numbers rock fluff all on his own, thank you very much.
That’s not strictly true, though, as all but two of the tunes here boast a co-writer. One of those is Sambora, on the album’s first single – and best song – a mature rejoinder to ‘Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night’, called ‘Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning’. But does he play guitar on that track, or any others? It's hard to say. Musician credits aren't included, and since these are, in some cases, old songs, it's possible that, in some cases, the band may have used old tracks instead of starting from scratch.
Even JBJ has washed his hands of ‘Burning Bridges’, decreeing it a “contractual obligation fan album” (isn't every album a fan album by the way !??). The country-flavoured title track is a tongue-in-cheek send-off to Mercury Records with scathing lyrics – “the last song you can sell” – the band’s home for 32 years. But no more... as the band and label could not agree on adjusted terms for the band's recording contract. There is apparently a “real” post- Sambora album set to follow on a new label in May next year. This predecessor is a stopgap “fan record”, rushed out to coincide with the band’s upcoming tour of Asia, which will stop off in Abu Dhabi on October 1st.
So the burning question remains: Is the latest Bon Jovi album ‘Burning Bridges’ a "new" album? That depends solely on what you consider "new" to mean. They're fresh recordings with the band's current line up, and I'm sure some interpretations were included along the way. One or two of these tracks like ‘We Don't Run’, are also some of the finest hard rock compositions to arrive from Bon Jovi in some time, (since ‘Have A Nice Day’ in my view). Rather than questioning the status of what we find on ‘Burning Bridges’, it may prove to be more worthwhile to turn towards the future of the band. If all Bon Jovi can do is rely on the previously abandoned scraps of earlier efforts when Richie Sambora, someone Jon Bon Jovi seemingly can't bury the hatchet with, was in the line-up and writing material, this progression may be over just as soon as it begins.
1 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
8 Life Is Beautiful
9 I'm Your Man
10 Burning Bridges
Wrinkly The Silver