10 Years Ago: Bon Jovi Bounce Back With ‘Have a Nice Day’
The release of Have a Nice Day in September 2005 found Bon Jovi at a crossroads.
They had launched Crush to double-platinum status in 2000 on the strength “It’s My Life,” a reminder that Bon Jovi were still capable of fist-flying radio-ready anthems. Their 2002 follow up Bounce peaked at No. 2, but did not have the staying power of the previous release – becoming the band’s first album that failed to reach platinum status. Next came a reworked greatest hits package, This Left Feels Right, and then the 100,000,000 Million Fans Can’t Be Wrong box set, which seemed to signal a moment of stagnation.
Frontman Jon Bon Jovi and lead guitarist Richie Sambora spent the summer of 2004 writing in anticipation of demoing in the fall and then recording in early 2005. But newly installed producer John Shanks encouraged Bon Jovi to go directly into the studio, setting new course toward this fiery blend of lite-metal-pop for Have a Nice Day.
“The songs weren’t extensively demoed, which is something we’ve always done for years," Bon Jovi said in promotional materials for the album. "With this we would go in, write a song, do it with a drum machine and then bring [drummer] Tico [Torres] and [bassist] Huey [McDonald] in at the end of the record. They played for a day and a half on the whole record.”
Ultimately, the group created a revitalized blend of pop sensibilities and the guitar-driven rock Bon Jovi has always been known for. But Jon Bon Jovi wasn't satisfied. The original early-2005 release date for Have a Nice Day went out the window, as he began tweaking lyrics and revamping arrangements. In addition to these changes, five more songs were written: “Story of My Life,” “Novocaine,” “Last Cigarette,” “Wildflower” and “Dirty Little Secret.”
By this point, Shanks was no longer available for more sessions, so Bon Jovi turned to Rick Parashar, who'd made a name for himself producing Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog before working with 3 Doors Down and Nickelback.
The new batch of tracks, aside from the throwaway “Wildflower," are among the strongest album cuts the band released during the 2000s. “Novocaine,” rumored to be about keyboardist Dave Bryan’s recent divorce, features smoldering vocals accentuated by harmony vocals. “Story of My Life” is a piano-driven song that surges through the storm of a relationship and is basically the 2005 version of “I’d Die For You” from 1986’s Slippery When Wet. Although the yearning may not match that gem, “Life” is a reminder that Bon Jovi is still capable of melodic rock perfection. The best of the bunch is “Last Cigarette” which fits squarely between the Beach Boys and All-American Rejects. This mashup is nothing short of magnificent, capturing innocence for both the baby boomers and a millennial, a rare feat.
The inclusion of these new tunes should have positioned Have a Nice Day as Bon Jovi's strongest record since These Days. But the band kept tinkering.
The get-in-the-ring “Unbreakable” ranks among their best post-2000 recordings, but it was relegated to bonus-track status on international editions of Have a Nice Day. Meanwhile, the ballad “These Open Arms” didn’t quite match up to their classic lighter-waving love songs – though it was good enough for Clay Aiken to cover for 2006's A Thousand Different Ways. Potentially the biggest casualty of the 2005 sessions was “Nothing,” a track that remains officially unreleased to this day. There is a deceptive and dark power to the song. It opens with an acoustic guitar and piano, but builds into a chorus full of hunger, majestic melody and impassioned vocals from Jon.
Upon first listen, the title track could be criticized for being a Schoolhouse Rock! outtake, but the simple-minded arrangement is bolstered by a band performance that’s off the hinges. Sambora fuels the engine with big stormy guitar chords, McDonald works in tandem with the unappreciated Torres, whose drums splinter and spit. Leading the charge is Jon Bon Jovi, who gives a truly remarkable vocal performance. The 2004 version had a slow bridge after the guitar solo that was left off the final version.
“I Am” falls into the pledging-of-love category. Once again, the song's highlight is the striking vocals from Bon Jovi, who pushed himself here. (That's possibly why "I Am" never became a concert staple.) “Last Man Standing” was inspired by the death of Johnny Cash in 2003, and an acoustic version was prepped for This Left Feels Right but got held back at the last minute. It found a home on the 2004 box set, but the electric band version is a bulldozer of brawn.
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” the most popular and enduring moment from Have a Nice Day, also contributed to this album’s many delays. The band and label knew they had a potential crossover hit and were looking for a country superstar to duet with Jon Bon Jovi. During the initial recordings in 2004, Bon Jovi talked Keith Urban into coming to the studio to lay down a vocal but, in the end, Bon Jovi and Urban’s vocal styles were too similar. The search continued for several months before the band’s management brought in Jennifer Nettles. She had a voice that perfectly complimented the breezy beauty of the song, and it also helped that her band Sugarland's debut Twice the Speed of Life was on its way to becoming a triple-platinum smash.
In the end, Have a Nice Day doesn’t have the touchstones of Bon Jovi's other classic records or the fearlessness that their '90s output – together and solo – housed, but it’s hard to condemn. This is simply a collection of 12 well-produced and finely tuned songs that jump out at you on first listen. Ballads mostly took a backseat this time around, as Bon Jovi zeroed in on their strengths. Sambora’s guitar also stands at the forefront of the record, something that would be missing from each album over the next decade. Most of the lyrics lack the sophistication of Bon Jovi's paramount work, but the arrangements and performances elevate each and every one of the tunes.
The results are not as consistent as Slippery When Wet, and Have a Nice Day does not have the emotional depth of These Days, but it’s a rock-solid set of pop-rock songs. Unfortunately, it also clear now that this album marked the end of an era, as the band's focus seemed to shift more towards touring in support of their massive catalog.
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