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November 05, 2005

Have a Bon Jovi day

A smiley face with an edge sets the tone for the New Jersey rockers' new ventures into social commentary and country music.

Depending on whom you ask, the cover of Bon Jovi's new bestselling album "Have a Nice Day" is a simple, cool cover or one of the dorkiest covers of all time.

It depicts a red smiley face, a modern-day cousin of the 1970s yellow smiley face.

"We think it's cool; some people might think it's lame," said Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, whose group plays a sold-out concert Friday at Target Center and returns Jan. 27 to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. "Some people want to see pictures of the band on the cover. We get bored with that."

The cover illustration reflects the title song, Sambora said recently. "It's [like] 'Have a nice day; get out of my face' -- therefore the smirk," he explained. "To me, it's much more of a Clint Eastwood 'Have a nice day' than a smiley face 'Have a nice day.' "

Some Bon Jovi fans have started a website, www.smirk watch.com, to recast the red smiley face in various circumstances. More than 600 postings show the face on pumpkins, as a tattoo and in other creative situations.

When told of the website by the Associated Press, singer Jon Bon Jovi said: "I knew that when we created the logo this is what it could be. This is bigger than the album cover."

Love or hate the cover, "Have a Nice Day" debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's album chart in late September, with the band's best week of sales (202,000) in the past 15 years.

The disc is probably the New Jersey quartet's most political album, thanks to "Bells of Freedom" and the title track.

"It's more social than political, from my standpoint," said Sambora, who co-wrote seven of the 13 tunes. "Jon [who wrote most of the lyrics] may tell you different. There's 'standing up for yourself' and a lot of personal freedom issues on this record."

Sambora said he thinks it's a reflection of what's happening in the world -- from the devastating impact of hurricanes to the war in Iraq. And addressing the broader issues in songs is consistent, he said, with Bon Jovi "giving back," whether it's shooting a music video tied to Habitat for Humanity, doing a free show at a New Jersey military base or performing at Live 8 to increase awareness of Third World poverty.

Trendy new producer

"Have a Nice Day" finds Bon Jovi hooking up with hot producer John Shanks, known for his work with Ashlee Simpson and Michelle Branch. Bon Jovi met him a few years ago when he was recording with Melissa Etheridge in a studio across the hall from the group's own project.

"We kept getting to know each other, and then all of a sudden he becomes this big producer, with the Grammy for producer of the year," Sambora said. "We got along with him so well. He obviously seems to be on the pulse of what's happening, and our band is certainly into evolving. So we figured we'd give it a shot."

Bon Jovi took a different approach to recording this time. Jon Bon Jovi, Sambora and Shanks wrote the tunes in the afternoon at Jon's home studio, then recorded them that night.

"We've never done that before. We've always been a band that has been very, very diligent and we'd write 30 songs and demo all of them and record the best of them," he said. "For this record, it was right off the presses, and it added a great freshness."

New Jersey boys go country

"Have a Nice Day" ventures into new territory for Bon Jovi -- country music. "Who Says You Can't Go Home," the band's next single, sounds like some slightly twangy Nashville band that grew up on '80s rock. To underscore the country possibilities, Bon Jovi included two versions on the album -- one rock rendition by the band, the other a duet with country star Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.

"The country thing was happenstance," said Sambora, pointing out that Bon Jovi joined Sugarland on "Crossroads," a County Music Television program that mixes country stars with rockers. "With what has happened to all the people in Texas and Louisiana and all the people who are displaced and homeless, [the song] kind of took on a new life."

Jon Bon Jovi will duet with Nettles on the Country Music Association awards Nov. 15. "Who Says You Can't Go Home Again" will be marketed in separate versions to rock and country radio stations.

"I've been wearing the cowboy hat since 'Wanted Dead or Alive' [a 1987 hit], so no one can call me like I'm jumping on the bandwagon," Sambora said. "I've been a cowboy for a long time."

He points out that the music business has "turned upside down" when it comes to cross-marketing.

"The ultimate mystique band -- Led Zeppelin -- they're a car commercial," he said, referring to an old Zep classic heard on Cadillac ads. "Before it was uncool; now it's cool. To get your music out to a whole other audience -- and I think this song works that way -- it's great. Before, in the late '60s or early '70s, it wasn't cool."

If it had been, the Eagles would have been as big in country as they were in rock.

Bon Jovi

Opening act: Winner of local-band contest, to be announced.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.

Where: Target Center, 600 1st Av. N., Mpls.

Tickets: Sold out.

Web: www.bonjovi.com.

Jon Bream, Star Tribune

Posted by riesambo at November 5, 2005 12:05 PM