- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bon Jovi’s ‘Nice Day’ made for radio play

Bon JoviHave a Nice Day

Island Records

Everything about the way Bon Jovi makes records — from the stop-time song hooks to the lyrics that have no use beyond crowd singalongs to the use of hired songwriters such as Desmond Child — seems calculated for maximum commercial exposure on radio and in sports arenas.

“Have a Nice Day,” the veteran pop metal band’s ninth studio album, is no different. It was co-produced (and a few of its tracks were co-written) by John Shanks, whose credits include the likes of Hilary Duff and Kelly Clarkson, singers who have nothing in common with Bon Jovi — unless you’re counting great haircuts.

If anything, the desperation for relevance is at an even higher pitch here: With an album-closing reprise of the song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” the band turns down the electric guitars, adds a fiddle and pedal-steel guitar and pairs country singer Jennifer Nettles with Jon Bon Jovi for a New Jersey hoedown. Even though it’s a transparent shot at getting Bon Jovi played in a new radio format, it’s actually the highlight of the album, because when you strip away all the gloss and artificial muscularity of Bon Jovi the brand, Bon Jovi the band isn’t half-bad.

Bon Jovi doesn’t see it that way, of course. Check out the Luddite story-song “Last Man Standing,” where Mr. Bon Jovi laments the absence of authentic rock heroes in this age of high-technology and disposable music: “Their songs were more than music/they were pictures from the soul/So keep your pseudo-punk, hip-hop, pop-rock junk/and your digital downloads.”

For a song about declining aesthetic values, “Last Man Standing” probably wasn’t the best vehicle. From the second you hear the overheated guitar riff from Richie Sambora, you’ll wish Mr. Bon Jovi had added another category — corny lite-metal — to his list of third-rate genres.

Mr. Bon Jovi’s weakness for poesy drags down otherwise likable tracks such as “Welcome to Wherever You Are” (“Be who you want to be/Be who you are/Everyone’s a hero/Everyone’s a star”), “Last Cigarette” (“Regret is all you left on your lipstick stains”) and the inevitable Bon Jovi power ballad “I Am.” An active Democrat, he stretches into some thinly veiled political protest for the portentous “Bells of Freedom.”

The hard-stomping title track also contains what some might consider signs of the times, as Mr. Bon Jovi sings, “I’ve knocked on every door on every dead-end street/Looking for forgiveness and what’s left to believe.”

This kind of stuff sounds better in the mouth of the man for whom Mr. Bon Jovi has been an able understudy these last 20 years — Bruce Springsteen. The Boss does disillusionment without sinking into juvenile solipsism, which is where “Have a Nice Day” (the album and the song) becomes terminally cornered.

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