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Bon Jovi

Samantha 7
Samantha 7 (Portait/C2 Records)

The main difference between these discs is that one doesn't suck nearly as badly as it ought to, while the other does -- and then some. In the mondo-suckage category, Bon Jovi's latest proves nothing except that the purveyor of some of the '80s' most delectable ear candy might want to give some thought to a day job (and preferably not acting). The only listenable cut here is "Just Older," an anthemic affirmation of the singer's elder-statesman status that succeeds through a degree of honesty that's sorely lacking in Crush's other selections. "It's My Life," for instance, layers Backstreet Boys­style production values over a rant so hollow it name-checks not only Sinatra's "My Way" but Bon Jovi's own "Living on a Prayer." Likewise "Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen From Mars" borrows too much Bowie mojo. In "Two Story Town," on the other hand, the former Jersey boy reverts to the small-bore Springsteen he's always been at heart. Along with hankie fests such as "Thank You For Loving Me," Crush contains a couple plastic paeans to ball-busting babes of the type whose dysfunction frequently passes for complexity in the adolescent imagination -- see "Mystery Train" and "She's a Mystery." To be fair, both band and singer deserve props for trying to keep their music somewhat marketable approximately a decade after anybody really cares. But unfortunately one of this Crush's prime disappointments is the way it reveals how much Jon Bon Jovi's distinctive wail is like that of Who howler Roger Daltrey: its success back in the day is paralleled only by its astonishing failure to adapt to subsequent musical and lyrical settings.

Unlike Bon Jovi, string-stretcher and prodigal Poison cofounder C.C. DeVille -- the driving force behind Samantha 7 -- has nothing to say and seems damn proud of it. Telegraphing their intentions like a sucker punch from wrestling alpha-heel Triple H, the 11 songs on Samantha 7's debut fly by in a burst of blazing guitars and bouncy tempos of the type rarely heard since one of the Goo Goo Dolls discovered he was a hottie. In its stronger selections, which include "Bonnie Bradley" and "Seane Girl," Samantha 7 parlays DeVille's three-note vocal range, his ten nimble digits, and his penchant for amusing self-deprecation into satisfying slices of pure power pop. In similar fashion, "Slave Laura," a whip-wielding fetishist fatale who, in the number that bears her name, promises, "You can tie me up/You can tie me down," sounds like a lot more fun than the tarts who fuel Bon Jovi's testosterone-inspired reveries. At their worst Samantha 7's tunes grow tiresome quickly, as is evidenced by the dirge-like "Bury Me" and the vapid "Hanging Onto Jane." But with nary a number lasting longer than three and a half minutes, at least the doldrums pass quickly.

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John Jesitus