If you want to avoid a headache, you should probably avoid reading this review. You see, this is the most confusing — if not even slightly controversial — album Bon Jovi has ever released. First of all, Jon Bon Jovi and camp keep calling it a “fan album,” stating that their next album will be out in mid 2016. (“It’s our latest, but not our next,” Jon Bon Jovi recently stated.) But shouldn’t ALL albums be considered fan albums? Seems a bit weird to designate it like that, as if that somehow makes it not an album at all and thus not subject to scrutiny. It would seem calling it a “fan album” is just Bon Jovi’s way of insulating themselves in case it flops. Now, why would they want to do that? Because this is their first album without legendary guitarist Richie Sambora, though he receives one co-writing credit here on “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning,” which was written with Jon and the album’s producer John Shanks during the sessions for The Circle.
Some of these songs on Burning Bridges were said to be out-takes and demos from previous Bon Jovi albums, but Shanks, who co-wrote a few of the songs with Jon Bon Jovi, has stated that they recorded *all of the songs* for this album. So, if some were written already or existed in demo form, these are actually new recordings, which Shanks himself played guitar on.
Another thing: Jon has stated that there will be “no lyrics, no credits, no pictures, no videos, and no interviews” for the album. Think about that for a moment. By not including credits or photos, it’s highly possible that some people will buy this album thinking that Richie is back in the band, especially since neither Jon or Richie has had much to say about their parting ways during recent months. Maybe it’s in both their best interests that people think Sambora is on this record and buy it accordingly? Richie is likely still part of the Bon Jovi organization and will likely receive royalties from the release even though he didn’t perform on it.[Of course, some of the above is just speculation on my part, but it’s based on things I’ve read on Wiki and in other reviews and news items on several other sites. (Some sources appear below the review.)]
And let’s not concern ourselves with wondering why JBJ has yet to name Richie’s replacement, Phil X, as an official member of the band. It’s not all that shocking though: Hugh McDonald has been playing bass for Bon Jovi for a couple of decades now and he still hasn’t been named as a member of the band. Interestingly, many fans will tell you that Hugh has actually played bass on every Bon Jovi record from the beginning, making it even more puzzling that JBJ hasn’t made him an official member. Some say that Hugh doesn’t want to be because he can work on other projects and doesn’t have to be 100% dedicated to Bon Jovi, but considering that Bon Jovi is always on the road or in the studio with Hugh right alongside them, it doesn’t look like Hugh would have much time to do non-Bon Jovi things anyway. Besides, Richie and keyboardist David Bryan both released solo albums while being in Bon Jovi, so it’s not like official member status would prevent Hugh from doing other things anyway.
Another thing about Burning Bridges: the title is not an F-U from Jon to Richie but to Universal Records, who Jon sings about during the title track. “After thirty years of loyalty / They let you dig a grave / Now maybe you could learn to sing / Or even strum along / But I’ll give you half the publishing / You’re why I wrote this song.” To that end, Burning Bridges serves as the final album that Bon Jovi still owed Universal, so you could look at it as something they just threw together to get out of their deal with them. But if that was the sole purpose for the album, why would they have taken the trouble to write some new songs for it and why would they completely re-record everything, like making a proper album? Do you have a headache yet?
Now, how is Burning Bridges? Better than you might think! I expected it to be a bunch of songs that weren’t good enough to be on a “next” or an official new Bon Jovi record. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself liking it so much from the very first time I listened to it. I suppose my lowered expectations might have made me easier to impress, and perhaps that’s what Jon was hoping would happen with this “fan” record. By downplaying its status as a Bon Jovi album, he more or less told people not to expect a whole lot, so then when they heard it they’d be blown away.
Another thing that’s surely throwing fans off guard is the fact that the album opens with a five minute ballad. (This is the first time any Bon Jovi album has ever opened with a ballad in the whole history of the band.) It’s called “A Teardrop To The Sea” and it’s not even a power ballad. It does get heavier as it progresses — even in an epic way — but it starts off quietly. A surprising choice to open the album with. Then again, it’s fantastic, one of Bon Jovi’s best songs ever. Fans have been waiting a long time for another epic song like “Dry County” or “Bed of Roses” and they’ve finally delivered it with “A Teardrop To The Sea.”
Various songs from the album have been released in various countries at different times, but the track the band seems to be focusing on, if they’re promoting anything like a single, is the powerful “We Don’t Run,” which I actually heard on a Boston radio station yesterday. It’s one of the songs that is completely new, written specifically for this album, and it’s one of Bon Jovi’s best lead singles in years. Because, let’s face it, it seems like every album they release nowadays is promoted with a generic theme song about love or not being followers. And these songs all kind of sound the same. To my ears, it seems like they keep picking the weakest song on the album to promote as a single. I guess they’re hoping they’ll have another “It’s My Life,” which was a pretty generic anthem. (Oddly enough, “It’s My Life” was co-written with renowned pop writer/producer Max Martin and, in spite of the fact that it did so well for them, and basically gave them their career back, the band has yet to work with him again.) Getting back to “We Don’t Run,” the verses are slightly gloomy-sounding, definitely darker than most Bon Jovi songs, which perhaps makes the inspiring chorus all the more effective. The background harmonies and massive drums (toward the end) sure help, too, though. As for Shanks’ guitar playing, I’d say his sound is less bluesy than Sambora’s, maybe more in the old school heavy metal vein; his solo here is brief but blistering.
The high energy “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning,” the Sambora co-write (along with John Shanks), was originally written for The Circle, one of my least favorite Bon Jovi albums, but it’s quite the catchy song with a singalong chorus that would’ve made it a huge song for the arenas if it was on the next Bon Jovi album and proved to be a hit. It’s not the band’s best work lyrically, but if this would’ve been on The Circle I would’ve liked the album much, much more.
The mid-tempo ballad “We All Fall Down” reminds me of the These Days album, These Days easily being my favorite Bon Jovi album. It’s a song about the human experience that is clearly meant to uplift the listener. It’s one of those songs you write to try to keep people from committing suicide.
“Welcome to another hard night / You made it through another day,” Jon sings tenderly on “Blind Love,” a down-tempo storytelling song about an alcoholic doing what he or she has to in order to stay sober. Fortunately, this person is one half of a couple and has someone to lean on it, though getting through the days and nights is still a struggle. The lyrics of this one are so beautiful that it almost makes me cry when I actively listen to them. It more than makes up for any songs that might feel generic in the lyric department here. It’s one of the best songs Jon has ever written and he actually wrote this one alone.
“Who Would You Die For” starts off slow and mellow like “Blind Love,” but once it hits the first chorus drums and guitars kick in, the tempo picks up. I could hear this one on These Days. It’s in the vein of “Something To Believe In,” both songs rather gloomy and pessimistic initially but, eventually, become messages of hope. Another one of Bon Jovi’s best songs in years.
If “A Teardrop To The Sea” doesn’t satisfy your craving for an epic Bon Jovi song, halfway through the album comes “Fingerprints,” which is just a couple of seconds shy of six minutes. And it’s not epic just because it’s a long song. Epic songs, to me, are those that start off one way and gradually morph into something else. Most start off mellow and wind up rather intense but it’s not always this way. It is for “Fingerprints” though. “I gave her my fingerprints / Guilty or innocent,” Jon sings. “I had to ask myself / Will I do it all again?” It’s a pensive song about looking back on a relationship, or even a one night stand, in a melancholic way.
Ultimately, all ten tracks on Burning Bridges are strong. It’s too bad they didn’t release this as the “next” Bon Jovi record and promote the hell out of it because it’s certainly on par with Bon Jovi’s usual output. In fact, it’s better than their last few albums! If you haven’t given up on the band yet, by all means check this one out. You can go stream it on Spofity for free, so you’ve really no excuse not to.