Bon Jovi: Whole Lot of Leavin' Review

by Anthony Kuzminski

On April 26, 2008 I received a message informing me that E Street Band organist Danny Federici has passed away. I must confess...the news came as a shock to me as I had just seen Federici four weeks earlier in Indianapolis which I assumed was a sign of things to come and not a concluding chapter. The news hit me harder than I had anticipated as Danny was one of the most instinctive musicians I had ever laid eyes on and yet he was almost never front and center. His instrumental fills are the equivalent of a secret spice cooks use to take their dishes to that next level and to distinguish them from others. As I thought about the show I had just seen a few weeks earlier, I felt like I needed to drive to reflect on life and I went and grabbed my 2006 mini Japan sleeve copy of Darkness on the Edge of Town. You see, amazingly Springsteen's catalog still is lacking the remaster treatment and until a rumored 30th Anniversary set appears the Japanese sleeve from 2006 maintains the best sound for this album on disc. I took it to my car where I planned on immediately going to track number five, "Racing In The Street", a song that allows you to ponder life and often take the next step forward in your progression. As I started my engine, blasting out of the speakers I heard "I still hear your voice, it takes me back to that time", a poignant lyric from Bon Jovi's "Whole Lot of Leavin'". As the song drew to a conclusion, I needed to listen to it again, which I did. While I thought I needed to listen to "Racing in the Street", it turns out the solemn hymn I needed on that night came to me through fate.

We look to artists to help us shape our worlds. When life throws them lemons, we want to see how they make lemonade, hoping we can draw some life lessons from it. Through music, we see reflections of ourselves and that is why music is so near and dear to so many. Portions of Bon Jovi's tenth studio album Lost Highway, are brilliant, albeit most of it just never seals the deal for me. While it's a wildy consistent affair, it lacks of profound, intense and the rip-open your chest honesty I was looking for. I was poisoned by expectations as the desired effect never reached the emotional heights I sought. Despite this, I still found four tracks that I feel stand shoulder to shoulder with the best the band has ever done; "Lost Highway", "Make A Memory", "Any Other Day" and "Whole Lotta Leavin'". "Leavin'" is the most emotionally raw of the bunch and while other lyrics on the album may be more downbeat ("Everybody's Broken"), it doesn't have the unnecessary embellishments that I feel hinder some of the other tracks ("We Got It Going On").

Placed as track-four on the album and performed nightly in concert, "Leavin'" is the emotional apex of the entire album and nightly in concert often steals the show. When Jon Bon Jovi churns out the lyric "I still hear your voice that takes me back to that time" it's intensely expressive and cuts like a knife through your soul just like it did for me back in April. Ironically, it is one of the few tracks that Richie Sambora does not share a writing credit on, yet it feels intensely autobiographical of his life. The lyrics where a pair of lovers turn to the other and asks "Do we got it anymore" crackles with a wake up call more startling than a bucket of ice cold water thrown on you. At its best, music provides a channel for life obstacles you find difficult to overcome. More importantly, it sometimes puts life into perspective.

Earlier this year I was speaking with a friend who admitted to me that when the band tore into "Whole Lot of Leavin'" on this past tour, at one show she began to cry because it reminded her of a recent death in her family. What shocked me about this confession is this came from someone whom I've never seen as being vulnerable, yet somehow this song cut through her own imposed barrier and spoke to her. There's no handbook for eliciting an affecting response from someone. While feelings can be manipulated, it takes something truthful and sincere to elicit tears and a look inward. Artists face a thorny challenge because ultimately their art is a reflection of their inner selves and once it goes out for mass consumption there will be those who pick at it until it bleeds. The world often chastises people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Those who defy the zombie like existence with unblinkingly perseverance are often chided for their openness. I find most people to be distant, detached and diffident. As a result, we create anxiety, cause immense inner damage to our bodies and lead largely unfulfilling lives. Life is about letting it all hang out and more times than not, you'll be walloped for doing so. However, every once in a while someone will embrace you for your sincerity, frankness and ability to allow yourself to be vulnerable. I've often felt Bon Jovi's most profound lyrics to be those misunderstood by the masses and "Leavin'" is up there with their best. It allows one to reflect while simultaneously being a catalyst for opening yourself up and relinquishing demons.

The song begins with a plaintive acoustic strum before the band lets loose on a highway to hell of reflection and redemption. It's not just one of the most emotive and confessional songs in the band's storied career but also one of their preeminent and a textbook example of the band's evolution over the last quarter century. It's dangerously poignant, confessional and savagely unsubtle in its delivery as the band has never sounded better or more confident in their craft. It's not the ornate production that makes the track, but the emotional release that makes the song so revealing and truthful. There is no handbook for dealing with heartache and loss but one can soothe the soul through being more truthful and open with themselves. "Whole Lot of Leavin'" has appeared to provide solace to more people I know than just about any other track in the last year. There is no sugar coating here, it's bleeding and indisputable which is more than any of us could ever hope for from any artist or song. A great song leaves you breathless, speechless and grasping for air and "Racing in the Street" and "Whole Lot of Leavin'" both fit the bill.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.

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