Bon Jovi's four-CD/one-DVD box set of rarities, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong, inspires two immediate reactions. The first: How in the world did Bon Jovi have four discs' worth of unreleased material in their vaults? The second: Who on earth would want to hear 50 rarities from Bon Jovi? To anybody who's not a devoted fan, the New Jersey group always seemed like a quintessential singles-driven band. Sure, they had many albums that were blockbusters -- 1986's Slippery When Wet and its 1988 follow-up, New Jersey, dominated the American charts in the latter half of the '80s -- but those were hits because of the singles that ruled the radio, hits that were so well crafted, it was hard to believe that Bon Jovi left material behind, but as this box set proves, they did. Apparently, the band followed the lead of their fellow Jersey icon Bruce Springsteen and cut more material for each album than they could possibly have used. Starting with Slippery When Wet, the band would record somewhere between 30 and 40 songs for an individual album, then whittle it down to a 12-track album, which means a whole bunch of completed material was left behind. Some of it turned up on soundtracks or foreign-market B-sides, but most of it lay unheard in the vaults until Bon Jovi assembled this box to commemorate their 20th anniversary (which arrived around the time they sold their 100,000,000th record, hence the title).
All that explains how this box came to be, but it doesn't address whether the set is any good or not. Surprisingly, the answer is that it's very good indeed. In the liner notes, Jon Bon Jovi claims that the band carefully chooses the songs that make the finished album so the record has a specific flow from beginning to end, meaning that the outtakes aren't necessarily worse than what made the record -- they may simply have been songs that didn't fit the mood or spirit of a particular album. Of course, Bon Jovi's fellow Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen follows the same aesthetic when he makes his albums, and it's fair to say that 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong is the group's spin on the Boss's rarities box, Tracks, which mixed B-sides, demos, and unreleased songs the way that this set does. The big difference between the two is that there are no outright classics on 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans -- no songs that are a crucial part of the story, no songs that make it necessary for any curious listener. However, that doesn't mean that listening to it won't make a doubter reconsider their views of Bon Jovi as a singles-only act. What's impressive about the box set is that it's consistently strong and well crafted. Most of these songs wouldn't have stormed up the charts, but they would have fit comfortably on any of the band's records, and sometimes would have been highlights. Bon Jovi were smart to sequence each of the four discs as their own cohesive album, since it gives each disc its own momentum and doesn't isolate all the gems to one single disc. Make no mistake, this box is still for the hardcore fan, who will delight in the rather lengthy collection of behind-the-scenes footage included on the DVD (no music videos are here, just rare footage shot throughout the band's career) and find that the entire set exceeds their expectations, but anybody else who dips into this generous collection will find that the music is strong, varied, well crafted, and often memorable. It's the rare set that enhances a band's reputation, since it reveals that there was more to the band than what was readily apparent on the surface, and that makes 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong an excellent way to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary.