Keep The Faith 30 Years Later: Bon Jovi’s Transition Re-Visited

Following a massive 1990 touring success on the offset of The New Jersey Syndicate in 1988, Bon Jovi was a bona fide sensation, becoming one of the first North American bands to play Russia, selling out the Moscow Music Peace Festival. Their Opening Acts in Europe included the Runaway’s Lita Ford and Scorpions in Munich, in the States, it was major musicians such as Billy Squier and Bad Company.

Yet, with all the pomp and circumstance that came with the pageantry of a tour that big, fresh off of a string of hits that include Wanted (Dead or Alive), Livin’ on a Prayer, Never Say Goodbye, You Give Love a Bad Name, Bad Medicine and I’ll Be There For You, and a video deemed so problematic in its own time period that it got Living In Sin banned from MTV, the band had their struggles, to their point where Jon Bon Jovi had to be bailed out on high notes by Richie Sambora, whose similar vocals complimented his to a tee, on stage. As the band felt the product suffer from a tour as arduous as that, their issues as a group consistently got worse, and Bon Jovi dissipated at their commercial peak.

A New Landscape

By 1992, the landscape of music had changed. “Nirvana had kicked us in the teeth,” Jon Bon Jovi once famously was quoted saying. Gone were the glamour bands that were too one dimensional musically to evolve. As the Motley Crue’s of the world were exposed for their lack of musical range and the aura of poufy hair bands fizzled out, bands such as Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains climbed to the top of the rock charts. Progressive metal band Dream Theater dropped their breakout album of Images and Words, while Stone Temple Pilots burst onto the scene with Core. People were no longer thinking about Bon Jovi or where they fit in the scene of more dissonant rock songs. The MTV party-track/love ballad era was long gone, and unplugged had jumped on the scene with more of a distinct focus on original sound.

For a somewhat clichéd act, albeit one who excelled wonderfully in those cliches, during their time that had already gone on hiatus, it seemed like Bon Jovi was a flash in the pan, but the band ‘kept the faith,’ if you will. Richie Sambora, who wrote almost all of Bon Jovi’s sheet music in collaboration with Desmond Child, had released his own album, with the hit ‘Father Time,’ a love-ballad that showed off his sensational vocal range and had more of a mid-‘90s sound and style. On the record, Sambora collaborated with musicians such as Eric Clapton and Tony Levin.

Meanwhile, Jon had cut the Young Guns II soundtrack, with fresh-sounding anthems such as Bang a Drum and Santa Fe, featuring some of his best lyrical work. As he tried to separate himself from the same formulaic radio-style that stifled innovation in the 1980s, he created some of his best lyrical work. During this period, Jon continued to work with the vocal coach, the first extended period of doing so for his career, as the ranges of talents such as Chris Cornell and Thom Yorke were finding its way on airwaves. Beyond that, the Jon Bon Jovi solo album credits Elton John, who did background vocals on Dyin’ Ain’t Much of a Livin’, Jeff Beck, Randy Jackson, Ben Tench, Little Richard and a myriad of other successful musicians. He teamed with Alan Silvestri of Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future, Forrest Gump) fame for composition. Jon had become such a good musician that cast member Kiefer Sutherland (24, The Lost Boys, A Few Good Men) tells the story that he made all of them feel stupid because while they were eating burgers in a diner at two AM one morning, Jon wrote the hit track Blaze of Glory in a mere six minutes on a napkin.

Speaking of composing, pianist David Bryan branched into film composition, a side career which eventually elicited him a Tony Award for his work on Memphis. While the band worked through their kinks and all improved musically, they still had one thing going against them: the hair metal stink. With that, Jon Bon Jovi chopped his signature locks. While Richie and percussionist Tico Torres kept theirs, Bryan also re-styled his hair to show more of his natural curls. With that and a more everyday wardrobe, the band was ready to rock’n’roll.

Finding a New Sound

They went recluse for seven months in Vancouver, where the band had recorded Slippery When Wet and New Jersey off the grid, with Bob Rock, who had just produced Metallica’s uber-popular ‘Black’ album the previous year. As the spandex and pop metal disappeared, so did the original attitude. As society clamored for more attitude throughout pop culture, Bon Jovi obliged. On October 12th of 1992, Bon Jovi released a single for the first time in over three years, with the titular track of the new album taking the music scene and turning it on its head immediately with the Hugh McDonald in-studio fretless Sadowsky bassline; immediate dissonance that leads into upbeat percussion. With the bassline as a driving force on the song, the song meshes what each musician had learned throughout their hiatus, finding a heavier sound for Bon Jovi than previously heard. Jon hits higher notes, and at a smoother rate than he previously hit lower notes, Richie uses a more hybrid guitar solo structure, that leads right into the now-iconic Jon Bon Jovi monologue. “I’ve been walking in the footsteps of societies lies, I don’t like what I see no more, sometimes I wish I was blind,” Jon exclaims. “Sometimes I wait forever to stand out in the rain, so that no one sees me crying trying to wash away this pain.” The background music is more prominent, with the audio mixing making it more known and less subtle, allowing for a meld of sounds to make one distinct sound, taking a very good band, and transforming them into a great band that’s a singular unit. Within the lyrics, Jon draws on things going on throughout the world and within his emotional turmoil, which brings out more relatable content than previously seen within the music released by Bon Jovi. The band had found their sound for the 1990s and how they’d evolve, immediately within the first single just a few weeks ahead of a November 3rd release date. For its music video, the black-and-white cinematography and shots of Sambora on the Brooklyn Bridge and Jon in a dark staircase only further solidified the darker turn for the band, allowing them to change as society did. Their lyrics were more vulnerable (‘It’s hard to be strong when there’s no one to dream on,’ ‘everybody’s bleeding cause the times are tough,’ ‘there are things I’ve done I can’t erase’). Yet, they still find a way to deliver the positive message intended.

A Different World View

Their perception of the world comes across in other tracks, however. Their sixth single from the album, Dry County, is a ten-minute masterpiece. The instruments are lined out perfectly: David opens with a heartbreaking sixty second introduction that provides a chilling sense of longing, providing enough pathos to allow the listener to encapsulate in the narrator’s solitude, presumably a skill he had picked up doing film scoring. It’s probably the most Bryan had been featured at the forefront of a track since Love Lies on their debut record eight years prior. As Jon uses low DM and C notes in the open, the organ rises with his voice. As his range goes significantly higher as he hits the “you can’t help but prosper,” Tico’s drums enter. It remains the two of them behind Jon with Alec Such’s guitar sort of in-and-out. Sambora doesn’t appear until halfway through as the song builds up to a mammoth solo from Sambora, who delivered perhaps the best bridge of his career, shredding it for about two and a half minutes. Jon is entirely absent. There’s a contrast in the heaviness when it’s everybody and it’s just Sambora, allowing Richie to show more of his personal style. As Jon comes back, back to the tone at the beginning, it almost entirely resets and builds back up. It’s the closest thing to a musical ‘epic’ in the Bon Jovi catalogue, deriving from the music theories provided by bands from the 1970s such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but with the Bon Jovi touch. In a later interview, JBJ commented that “it would’ve never been possible for me to write a Dry Country five years ago,” citing how much better he felt his lyrical work had become. The song was written after his experiences spending a summer excursion in the Arizona desert in 1991. For the first time, a Bon Jovi track featured socially conscious lyrics, something that has since become a staple in their music. The song does a deep dive into a society that had become so reliant on the oil industry economically, and watching the bottom fallout and its impact on the millions of workers laid off in what was thought to be a gold mine. But the lyrics go beyond that, as the opening monologue strikes the right chord. “Across the border they turn water into wine” draws you in, while just a few seconds later the line “some say it’s a savoir, in these hard and desperate times, to see it helps me to forget that we’re just born to die” provokes thought. The pause between born and to, combined with the drawing out of die lets it simmer just right. Further along the first verse is the line “I made my bed I’ll lie in it, to die in it’s the crime.” Dying on a hill because you’ve already climbed up the hill is a trap that so many people fall into without realizing it, leaving them farther than they should be in life. The song discusses the proverbial sins of the suits that saw the profit and cutout the middleman, that didn’t allow the metaphorical oil to trickle down to the workers as promised, an issue still facing society in 2022. But it’s the second verse that has its best lyrics:

“I cursed the sky open
I begged the clouds for rain
I prayed all night for water for this burning in my veins
It was like my souls on fire and I had to watch the flames
My dreams went up in ashes and my future blew away”

The raw emotion that Jon Bon Jovi put into the writing and delivery of this song brings everything else together, proving that he wasn’t just another hack with no range from the late-‘80s. Somber extended plays became Bon Jovi’s calling in the 1990s, especially with the These Days album on the horizon, featuring tracks such as As My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms, but this allowed the listener to salivate at the bit, yearning for more.

The biggest hit from the album is Bed of Roses, released for the radio in 1993. While it wouldn’t be a Bon Jovi album without a power ballad, this one takes a slower pace than its In These Arms album counterpart. Written after Jon woke up in a hotel room with a hangover, as reflected in the lyric “sitting here wasted and wounded, at this old piano trying hard to capture the moment, this morning I don’t know ’cause a bottle of vodka’s still lodged in my head, and some blonde gave me nightmares, I think that she’s still my bed as I dream about movies they won’t make of me when I’m dead” that opens the track. The song features arguably Jovi’s best imagery in a lyrical sense, and does a dive into self-reflection of his life on the road away from his wife. Bryan’s soft piano tempo and Richie’s more drawn out guitar compliments Jon’s high vocals with a fascinating juxtaposition that hits the mood to perfection.

It’s Jon’s most autobiographical song and you can tell, to him, it’s his most important by how potent his energy is. It’s Jon’s guilt for what he’d done to Dorothea Hurley, his wife, and the lifestyle that came with being one of the most recognizable faces on the planet in the 1980s before they got married. While the song is romantic (“tonight, I won’t be alone, but you know that don’t mean I’m not lonely”), the adulterous undertones are quite prevalent, tackling a difficult subject in Jon’s life. The best music comes from the soul and you can feel the power through the speaker. “A king’s random in dimes I’d give each night to see through this payphone” helps put into perspective the lack of closeness and perpetual struggle of being away from your significant other for so long in an interesting manner. It’s not the sexual desire that he longs for, but the intimacy the narrator feels with his significant other. A beautiful track that delves into the cobwebs of a complicated situation.

The album also dives into some more traditional rock experiments. Blame It On The Love of Rock’N’Roll is a fast-paced, upbeat early ’70s sounding rock track about a teenager wanting to be a rock star and chasing the dream. Along the same lines is I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, an upbeat, drum-heavy party track with similar pacing and style that a live audience can clap along with. They’re fun tracks that break the otherwise melancholy mood set throughout the record. The album’s opening tune, I Believe, lyrically goes into the soul provided by chasing your dreams and being unapologetically yourself while doing so. Meanwhile, the final bookend track on the album is Little Bit of Soul, another song you can snap to, but that’s slower and groovy enough to blend in on 1960s radio. It empathizes with traumatic experiences, but encourages listeners to look into their soul and find what motivates.

The Politics of the Album

One of the more inspired, if you will, tracks on the record is a song aptly titled “Fear,” which looks into the fear put on people within a capitalistic society. The ’90s was a creative explosion in music, and artists tried a lot of things to differentiate themselves, including Bon Jovi sampling siren noises to counteract snare percussion. Yet, it’s not all that different in style than BIOTLORNR, using similar bass and drumlines. Its meaning is much deeper. “It seems that everybody’s doing their sentence, it’s just there ain’t nobody here knows just what’s the crime.” People struggle with the mundane routines that come with everyday life, often feeling like a slave to a clock, buried within a system that doesn’t look out for them. Jon isn’t even in subtle in these lyrics, touting that “you ain’t one for taking chances. You work and you live and you breathe 9-to-5. Still that’s what you call living. Ha. That’s surviving to me and surviving is living to die in fear.” The fear is specifically about the “brass ring.” People refuse to take risks because they’re afraid of failure, allowing industries that they’re in to continue to take advantage of them. People aren’t motivated to go against the system implemented and chase their dreams, and they’d be happier if they did. It’s clear within the lyrics on tracks such as this and Dry County that Jon took ample time to look at society and what his biggest issues in this time were, providing a time capsule in a way to America of yesteryear, right before the Clinton administration took over and dotcom bubble.

Bon Jovi’s Popularity Sound

Of course, heading out of the hiatus, Bon Jovi couldn’t be completely unrecognizable for the “smooth-talkin’, silk-stocking lipstick and curls.” With the popularity of the tracks on New Jersey and Slippery, as well as Edge of a Broken Heart for the 1987 film Disordelies, you wouldn’t isolate that part of the fanbase. After all, there ‘ain’t no woman like a woman in love.’ Between the pop ballad Woman in Love, If I Was Your Mother In These Arms and I Want You, the album certainly had its share of traditional Jovi sound. In These Arms is this album’s Born To Be My Baby. The band’s third promotional single, the song uses guitar jangles and hard drums. A great ’80s style Bon Jovi love song, the album needed it like a poet needs the pain. Meanwhile, If I Was Your Mother is the most peculiar track on the album. Drum-heavy with a unique guitar line, it has more of a pre-Slippery Jovi vibe with a chorus from Jon and Richie that fits the scheme of 7800 Fahrenheit. Richie was asked what it meant in an interview one time and explained that he always perceived Jon’s point as somebody being so obsessed with somebody that they wanted to be as close as the person who gave birth to them. I think we’ll leave song analysis at that, before it gets too out there.

Bon Jovi’s quintessential breakup song, the first of many songs in their catalogue to talk about the shade of blue that the sky is, is I Want You. “All I’ve got is my guitar, these chords and the truth and all I want, baby all I want is you” Jon shouts, reflecting back on the time and state of mind he was in during his split with Dorothea back before they’d gotten it right. The lifestyle that led to their breakup and how he love-bombed her when all she wanted was him to be himself is something that he didn’t understand at the time, and didn’t until their brief split. Arguably Jovi’s sweetest lyric is “I never wanted the stars, never shot for the moon, I like them right where they are, all I wanted was you.” The vocal range is shown off here, hitting high C5, G4, B4 notes as well as a notoriously low E3 note.

Where Keep The Faith Fits in the Bon Jovi Discography

Keep The Faith came in a post-hiatus, transitional phase for Bon Jovi. Always came out in the 1994 on their first greatest hits compilation and remained their longest charted hit. The went headfirst into emotional trauma of the bandmembers on These Days, taking the sound of Dry County and Bed of Roses and improving upon them. Jon even hits a C6 note on Something to Believe In on that album, as they shy away from the eighties sound entirely. But on Keep The Faith, Jovi remained true to what brought them to the forefront in the 1980s, introduced what kept them on the radar in the 1980s, and gave a glimpse of the 2000s. For an album that came out in a transitional phase, it established Jon Bon Jovi as more than a pretty face, showing an incredible range for what was an untrained voice hitting harsh notes in the 1980s. Dry County is in B4, A4, D5 and B5. BIOTLORNR is in G4, G5 and B5. Little Bit of Soul goes so low that it bleeds into A1-A2 range, while Keep the Faith is a high F#5. His range is all over the place, constantly jumping within songs themselves, silencing the critics that questioned his range amongst the ’80s hair metal frontmen. As they went more autobiographical and sang from the heart, their look changed to something that fit who they were personally more.

All things considered, in an era where the genre was at its peak, Bon Jovi found their place in 1992, something that other hairbands were unable to figure out. Granted, it took a split and all of them finding who they are as both people and musicians, combined with the fact that they kept faith in each other, to come back with arguably their best musical offering. It debuted Top Five on the charts and only went higher from there. Thirty years later, this album sounds as fresh as it did in 1992. Great music is timeless, and this album is certainly aging like a wine.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus.

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