Hey Jovi, Where You Goin’ Without Jon in Your Band
Damn it all, I’m going to review Aftermath of the Lowdown. It’s a Richie Sambora solo album. Thirteen year old me insists.
Unsettlingly large parts of my life have been spent listening to Richie Sambora songs, both his more popular Bon Jovi music, and his lesser-spotted, unpopular solo artist records. As a matter of fact, I’ve always preferred him over his preening frontman–Sambora at least had the decency to age like a proper rock star, if not musically then at least facially and alcoholically. And while his voice might not be what it once was, it’s undoubtedly a more welcome noise in my pretty earholes than Jon’s latter-day strangled, self-satisfied gargling. But forget all of that, and ask this: are the songs any good?
Well, really, have they ever been?
I mean, they’re fine. The album gets by to some extent on the simple joy of hearing Sambora play a lengthy guitar solo as something other than an embarrassed apology. Freed from the constraints of writing to Bon Jovi’s charting ambitions, and Jon’s baffling insistence on having a blandly strummed acoustic guitar in every other song, there’s plenty of actual guitar riffs and guitar breaks and other guitar things you wouldn’t normally hear on a modern Jovi album. I mean, it’s never very interesting music – the scope here never ranges far beyond “eh, it’ll probably sound good in a car, I guess?” – but it beats listening to even the quietest picosecond of “Welcome to Wherever You Are” ever again.
Unfortunately, there is also some of that Jovi-esque pop pap. Lead single “Every Road Leads Home To You” is a moderately successful take on “Bon Jovi Lead Single Formula 47” , all synth-strings and yearning choruses (so, y’know, if you like formulaic, hookless pop-rock you’ve got that to look forward to) but it’s sunk by the same mushy, mulchy production that’s infected Bon Jovi albums since Bounce, where none of the instruments actually sound distinct. (I was graciously blaming it on the weedy 128kbps promo leak, but a listen to the more sturdy 256kbps leak today slapped me in my stupid merciful face.) Beyond that, songs like “Weathering the Storm” (co-penned by Bernie Taupin, and horribly so) and “I’ll Always Walk Beside You” are rubbish and boring and rubbish again. Stop it, guitar man. Stop it. You are bad at this.
It also seems like his years as a peddler of poodle-haired pop-rock have left Sambora unable to speak in anything other the most withered of clichés. The hilariously tame attempt at social commentary “Nowadays” actually contains a verse consisting of four consecutive clichés, and nothing else. Observe.
Spinning their wheels, they can’t keep up
Things are moving way too fast
Time is running out
And it’s slipping through their grasp
Which is a shame, because it’s a fun knockabout that sounds like a refurbished Foo Fighters song, as long as you can powerfully ignore everything that Sambora vacuously utters.
There are a few pleasant surprises, though. “You Can Only Get So High” is good for the duration of the first verse, at least, where Sambora sounds genuinely shattered (it sadly devolves into a blandy-bland mid-tempo “anthem” thereafter). Album closer, “World”, is a gentle, unhurried Beatles tribute, and it’s probably the least self-conscious song Sambora’s been part of in over a decade. Except, perhaps, for “Seven Years Gone”, which starts as an inoffensive power ballad, then suddenly takes a drunken left turn into the most powerful riff on the album, then quietens down for a bit, before going back to the riff for a closing guitar shred. It doesn’t quite cohere, but that’s half the joy of it. The merest hint of this kind of bi-polar songwriting would have been quickly focus-tested right out of a proper Jovi album. Here, it remains intact, in all its confused glory.
Also, you won’t know this, but in some promotional interviews, Sambora mentioned that the album is “modern” sounding. For the most part, excluding the aforementioned production messiness, he is lying through his nuclear-whitened teeth – this album could pretty much have been recorded in the 70s, and sounded better for it. The single, blatant nod to modernity is the tragi-comic “Sugar Daddy”, with its quite good fuzzy White Stripes guitar lines, which are immediately ruined by the vaguely worrying “dirty old man” lyrics (sample: “You got your hand in my jar, one foot out the door/I’m always one step away from closing my candy store”). Eurgh, buhhhh, etc.
All of which is an 800-word way of saying “Y’know? Meh.” It sounds like a reasonably decent Bon Jovi album with better vocals and less instantly memorable choruses. But then, the last instantly memorable chorus Bon Jovi had was “It’s My Life”, and that was thirty six years ago now, so maybe it’s not that bad of a trade-off? It doesn’t really matter, since I also just bought the brand spanking new Corin Tucker Band album FOR LESS THAN SIX EUROS, so go buy that instead.