review by Michael McCarthy
Bon Jovi’s 1995 masterpiece These Days is today’s album of the day. It’s one of the albums that Bon Jovi fans argue about the most. It seems like everyone either loves it or hates it. I’ve mentioned it before and had many people tell me it’s their favorite Bon Jovi album but just as many have said it’s their worst. I’m one of those folks who thinks it’s Bon Jovi’s best album of all-time, which is saying a lot because I love all of Bon Jovi’s albums with perhaps 2020 as an exception.
The thing you have to understand about These Days is that it came out at the time when grunge was still the most popular genre of rock music. That being said, These Days is definitely NOT a grunge album. But in some ways it is a darker and more pessimistic Bon Jovi album. And that’s one of the things I like about it because the lyrics tend to cut deeper than those of the average Bon Jovi song. Take the first song, “Hey God,” during which Jon Bon Jovi practically screams, “Hey God, tell me what the hell is going on / it seems like all the good shit’s gone.” Although the song is basically about the decline of civilization, a lot of fans took the chorus as Jon Bon Jovi talking about the state of the music business at the time since Bon Jovi had suddenly become unpopular during the grunge explosion. At the same time, there’s a grittier guitar tone to this song compared to Bon Jovi’s previous material so in some way you could argue that it has a slight grunge influence.
My favorite song on this album is the title track, “These Days,” which contains what’s probably my favorite Bon Jovi verse of all-time:
“Jimmy Shoes busted both his legs / trying to learn to fly / his momma said he was crazy / he said momma I’ve gotta try / don’t you know that all my heroes die / and I guess I’d rather die than to fade away.”
The whole song is brilliant, but I love it when Bon Jovi tells stories with their lyrics and “These Days” is one of the best examples of that.
Perhaps the most intriguing song on the album is the nearly six minute long “My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms.” It begins, “Misery loves company / I like the way that sounds / I’ve been trying to find the meaning / so I can write it down / staring out the window / it’s such a long way down / I’d like to jump / but I’m afraid to hit the ground.” If I had to pick out the most depressing Bon Jovi song ever, it’s probably this one. However, because I can often relate to the lyrics, it’s certainly one of the Bon Jovi songs that I’ve found the most comfort in over the years. Aside from the lyrics, the music is epic and haunting with quiet, somber moments and loud, explosive parts as well.
Most Bon Jovi fans would say that These Days was the final album of the first half of Bon Jovi’s career. After that, Jon Bon Jovi released the solo album Destination Anywhere then he and Bon Jovi disappeared for a few years. Their big comeback was with the single “It’s My Life,” which would become one of the band’s biggest hits to date, setting off a new chapter in the Bon Jovi saga. While I do love those Bon Jovi part two records, it can easily be argued that the band keeps trying to come up with another big anthem like “It’s My Life” again and again. I guess they figure that theme worked for them once so it’s bound to work again eventually. A lot of longtime fans are sick of that formula, though. A lot of those songs like “Everyday” and “We Weren’t Born To Follow” feel like the band is trying too hard and approaching songwriting as though they were writing advertising jingles and not actual songs. If that’s how you’ve felt about their output during the last decade then I would implore you to check out These Days. It’s kind of like the answer to the question, “What kind of music would Bon Jovi make if they could do whatever they wanted?” (as opposed to trying to please the record label). You definitely get the sense that this was a sort of liberated Bon Jovi. It also showcases a darker side of Bon Jovi that we seldom get to see.
While most Bon Jovi fans are probably hoping for another Slippery When Wet or New Jersey, I always find myself wanting another These Days. A more thoughtful and colorful album that strikes a chord with my soul as opposed to simply being a collection of contagious earworms. I doubt we’ll ever get such a record but at least we have this magnum opus.