Those who know me well know that I can’t help but ponder the weighty issues of life. Which has led me to ponder this: Bon Jovi’s ‘In These Arms’ could have been one of the best fist pumping, stadium rocking, pop-metal anthem of all times, but alas. It was not so. Or, at least not quite.
Don’t get me wrong – ‘In These Arms’ is an awesome song. You don’t get heavy rotation on soft-rock radio stations aimed at middle aged housewives if you’re not.
But back in 1992, Jon Bon Jovi being the shrewd business man he is knew what he had to do – he had to cut off the poodle locks and lose the 80s hair band sound which had made him one of the wealthiest and most famous rock stars of all time. Because something big had just happened. On the 27 August 1991 with the release of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to the airwaves, hair metal fell dead.
The re-imaged Bon Jovi of their 1992 album ‘Keep the Faith’ saw the turning down of Richie Sambora’s flashy and distorted guitar histrionics for a more mature, hard rock sound.
So there we have it – Keep the Faith – the album that enabled perhaps the only hair band of the 80s to not only successfully transition, but thrive in the new rock environment known as ‘Grunge’.
While I still harbor some resentment towards Grunge and its murder of 80s Hair Metal, Grunge, with its self loathing and angst ridden lyrics proceeded to commit suicide only a few years later on 5 April 1994.
Now, despite Bon Jovi’s re-imaging and new sound, it’s not as if there are no heavy rocking songs on Keep the Faith – there are, not least Metallica’s Black Album inspired number ‘If I Was Your Mother’, the faster tempo rocker ‘Fear’, and the hard rocking opening track ‘I Believe’. Despite these heavier tracks, I can’t help to think what ‘In These Arms’ could have been.
While the song opens gently with a bright electric guitar, the subtle, but throbbing basS riff tells you that this ain’t just a run of the mill power ballad, and that there is more to come.
By the second verse, the dominant beat from Tico’s drums is added to the sonic landscape. A crescendo is building and is about to be unleashed in the chorus. By the final line in the second verse, Richie’s bright guitar swiftly takes on a heavier, more distorted sound.
And then the Jon rips into the chorus:
“I’d hold you, I’d need you,”
And Richie’s guitar obliges.
But this is precisely where the song needed to go just that little step further. As the chorus opens, a quick flick to a guitar distortion and sound reminiscent of the band’s 1986 and most popular record, Slippery When Wet would have sealed the pop metal deal. It is this very sound (and Jon’s good looks) that made Bon Jovi’s considerable female fan base weak at the knees, and as for them lads; pump their fists in the air with just a bit more enthusiasm which characterised the bombastic but carefree 80s Hair Metal attitude and sound.
Although ‘In These Arms’ never quite made it – it is a great pop song on the considerably underrated record, Keep the Faith. From the serious and epic 10 minute long ‘Dry County’, to the Metallica-esque ‘If I Was Your Mother’, the playful ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’, and the reflective and more mature ‘Bed of Roses’, Keep the Faith has all the ingredients of a great rock album.
But if Jon had for one moment, thrown a little caution into the wind and allowed just a little bit more of the 80s flow into ‘In These Arms’, I am certain it would have had been one of the best pop metal anthems of all time.
Photo by mags20_eb