John Bongiovi: Power Station Years 1980-1983

These aren’t the best of days for bootleggers. First, the Grateful Dead, one of rock’s few boot-friendly acts, disband. Then, this June, two New York record-store owners become the first manufacturers and sellers of illicit recordings to be convicted under a new amendment to the state’s penal code; each faces up to four years in prison. As this zealous pursuit of copyright pirates spreads, where can collectors go to buy bootlegs of their heroes’ unreleased studio scraps and concert recordings, or material the artists prefer not be issued? How about your neighborhood Virgin or Tower? In the last few months, a wave of unauthorized superstar discs have infiltrated the racks at major chains.

Springsteen isn’t the only one with family issues. In the early ’80s, producer and studio owner Tony Bongiovi recorded a few tracks by his second cousin John, an aspiring rocker. Roughly 15 years later, Bongiovi has unleashed them — to the considerable irritation of his kin, now known as Jon Bon Jovi. John Bongiovi: The Power Station Years 1980- 1983 captures the sound of a young, hungry Jersey kid with a not-unappealing voice and a knack for both easy-to-grasp banalities (”I’ve been waiting for someone special/To come and take me away”) and dumbed-down-Springsteen hooks (Jon’s Jersey roots are showing here). Jon already knew how to attract female fans. In songs like ”Stringin’ a Line” and ”Don’t You Believe Him,” he advises prospective mates to leave their loutish boyfriends for his ultrasensitive self.

The Power Station Years is the rock equivalent to those cheesy but transfixing Before They Were Stars television specials. The music — rinky-dink synths and sanitized guitars — is so representative of its time that it feels hairsprayed. As derivative and inconsequential as the album is, it still has its share of guilty pleasures (like the puppy-dog rocker ”Head Over Heels” and the power ballad ”More Than We Bargained For,” which hints at hits to come). But the same can be said of every album Bon Jovi have made since: In that regard, the band’s music hasn’t changed one iota. C+

John Bongiovi: Power Station Years 1980-1983
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