For more than 25 years, Bon Jovi has been cranking out hit albums and playing arenas and stadiums, while establishing a level of enduring popularity that only a handful of acts have ever achieved.
Some would suggest that one of the secrets to Bon Jovi’s success has been the band’s ability to craft a signature arena-friendly brand of melodic rock that has stayed pretty consistent since the days of the group’s 1986 breakthrough album, Slippery When Wet. Drummer Tico Torres has an explanation for Bon Jovi’s longevity and continued popularity.
“I think basically what keeps us fresh is the fact that, you know, we try to reinvent ourselves musically and listen to what’s happening sound-wise,” Torres says during an early February teleconference interview. “Then when it comes out to do a record, you know, it’s the writing. I think you try not to emulate anything you did in the past, but try to grow.”
Torres’ observation could be taken as the kind of talk that occurs whenever musicians discuss a new album — much the way that musicians usually say the new CD is their best record. But Torres actually makes a valid point.
As much as signature songs like “Living on a Prayer,” “It’s My Life” or “Wanted Dead Or Alive” might seem to fit a pretty similar stylistic template, Bon Jovi (which also includes keyboardist David Bryan, guitarist Richie Sambora and, of course, singer Jon Bon Jovi) hasn’t simply been making the same kind of albums for all these years.
Formed in 1983 in Sayreville, N.J., the band established its signature sound with its third CD, Slippery When Wet, which included hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” That CD, coupled with the 1988 follow-up album New Jersey (another chart-topper with hits like “Bad Medicine” and “Born to Be My Baby”), sold a combined 19 million copies in the United States alone.
On subsequent albums, the band’s signature sound remained intact, but the group frequently tinkered around within that framework.
On the 1992 album, Keep The Faith, the band went for a bit grittier edge, while 1995’s These Days took on a darker feel lyrically. Then of course there was the 2007 CD, Lost Highway, on which Bon Jovi and Sambora wrote songs with several country tunesmiths and injected a notable country accent into some of the CD’s songs.
Now comes The Circle. This time Bon Jovi has returned to its familiar rock sound, cranking out anthems like “We Weren’t Born To Follow” and “Thorn In My Side” and power ballads like “When We Were Beautiful” that wouldn’t feel out of place on New Jersey.
But guitarist Sambora, who also participated in the teleconference interview, says once again there are some twists within the music on The Circle that epitomize the band’s tendency to experiment with its sound.
“We’re actually moving in different sonic territory, I think, for Bon Jovi than I think we’ve ever done before,” he says. “Songs like ‘When We Were Beautiful’ and ‘Broken Promised Land’ and things like that. There are all these different sounds that are coming in that we’ve never used before either.”
What’s an even bigger new wrinkle is the lyrical direction of The Circle. Sambora said when he and Bon Jovi began writing new songs, the plan was to finish a handful of new tunes to round out a greatest hits CD. Instead, the songs started coming fast and furious, and Bon Jovi and Sambora found themselves tapping into topical themes (such as the recession and the arrival of President Barack Obama) that served as a notable departure from the group’s more common romantic fare.
“We couldn’t have written this album if the world wasn’t in the state it was in,” Sambora says.
The group figures to give fans a chance to hear the latest turns in the Bon Jovi sound as the band (joined by touring bassist Hugh McDonald and guitarist Bobby Bandiera) begins a tour that will eventually number some 135 shows and extend into summer 2011.
“I’m sure that we’ll do The Circle in its entirety a few times on this tour because we’re really, really proud of this record and proud of the evolution that happened with this record for us as far as musically and songwriting and all that stuff,” Sambora says.
But there will be plenty of variety in the song set, even at shows that find the band playing The Circle (or other albums like Slippery When Wet or Lost Highway — two possibilities mentioned by Sambora).
“We’re going to go back and we’re going to play some stuff that we haven’t played in 20 years, like stuff from maybe the first two albums,” Sambora says. “And we have so many records to choose from and so many songs to choose from.”
Even though Sambora has played the Bon Jovi hits hundreds — if not thousands — of times over the years, he said he never gets tired of performing them. The setting, he says, makes all the difference.
“Lets put it this way, I’m not going to sit around in my house and play ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’” the guitarist says. “But when I’m playing in front of people and I’m playing it for people, it becomes something different. And it becomes an experience.”
On the Bill: Bon Jovi plays the Pepsi Center on March 8. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $11 to $500. 1000 Chopper Cir., Denver, 303-405-1260.