JON BON JOVI: A MESSIAH FOR METAL?

Ozzy Osbourne isn't sexy.

Heavy metal's main superstar attracts fans through outrageousness and showmanship. But he's not what heavy metal, which has been down and out lately, needs right now.

It needs sex appeal, a rather large dose of it too. This sexy Messiah could attract females (heavy metal is still mostly geared to young males). It needs a young, handsome, macho singer who can electrify metal addicts but also has enough mainstream appeal to make the cover of People magazine. Mainstream acceptance, spearheaded by this Messiah, would also help break down the radio barriers that have been lethal to the genre.

Some heavy-metal heroes, while sexy enough, are simply too sinister for the pop masses who are often turned off when confronted by a touch of evil. But there's hope. Jon Bon Jovi, the 24-year-old singer/songwriter who formed the band Bon Jovi three years ago, just might be the answer.

The Bon Jovi blitz is just beginning. The band's third album, "Slippery When Wet," is a meteoric hit, shooting into the Top 10 in just four weeks, as quickly as albums by the superstars. Radio is even playing the band's single, "You Give Love a Bad Name."

Bon Jovi is definitely star material. He's basically affable and, refreshingly, isn't a posturing blowhard, which means pop fans won't be turned off by him. He's neither surly nor wicked, shunning the sleazy side of heavy metal. But he's no wimp either, at times flashing his tough-guy manner, which is essential to score with metal fans.

Bon Jovi is an above-average rock singer--sounding like Pavarotti next to metal shriekers like Twisted Sister's Dee Snider--but his looks may be as important as his voice. He and the other members--keyboards player Dave Bryan, guitarist Richie Sambora, bassist Alec John Such and drummer Tico Torres--are often called the pretty boys of heavy metal.

That makes Bon Jovi mad: "We don't go in for makeup and hairdos. If we're good-looking, that's an accident. We didn't plan to be a band of pretty boys. We don't try to play it up. When this band was put together in three weeks about three years ago, all I cared about was musical talent, not how the musicians looked."

But this sex appeal may be their salvation.

The crusading Parents Music Resource Center, which aims to clean up heavy metal, may be somewhat to blame for the recent metal slump, having convinced many to tune it out. But the music is at fault too.

Some metal heavies turned out subpar albums. Bands like Quiet Riot, Motley Crue and Twisted Sister didn't make the kind of music that metal fans wanted to wantonly bang their heads to. Much of this music was, as its detractors consistently contend, merely ear-numbing noise.

It doesn't look like hard-core bands such as W.A.S.P., Accept and Metallica will breathe new life into the genre. And former heavies such as AC/DC are graveyard-bound.

To rejuvenate the genre, this melodic metal--if it can get airplay--seems to be the answer. Heavy-metal fans like it and pop fans aren't as offended by it. Bon Jovi, whose band plays this more moderate metal, knows that too.

"You can't shove the old stuff down people's throats, stuff they don't want," he said. "There's this one style of heavy metal that's having problems. If you keep pushing that style, it's like beating a dead horse. We go for the other style."

When the band emerged three years ago with the album "Bon Jovi"--on PolyGram Records--it was one of the most promising groups in the genre. Its slick, comparatively intelligent music seemed a cut above what its competitors were playing.

The second album, "7800 Fahrenheit," was truly exceptional--melodic, well-executed, remarkably energetic. Though it eventually sold over 500,000 copies, it wasn't the smash everyone expected.

"Radio didn't play it," Bon Jovi recalled. "We got caught in a bad time for hard rock and heavy metal on radio. We toured a lot, which eventually sold the album."

The new "Slippery When Wet" album isn't musically superior to "7800 Fahrenheit" but, just as important, it's very commercial--with unmistakable pop overtones. The music on the new one is melodic--much in the style of Def Leppard's material--but still punchy and sharp-edged. There's a growl in Bon Jovi's voice but, unlike most metal singers, he's not an all-out screamer. When he sings, you can usually understand the lyrics--a rare experience in heavy metal.

Jon Bon Jovi's deadpan face slipped into a scowl, as if he had just recalled something unpleasant. It turned out that he was thinking about Los Angeles.

He doesn't like it here. You've heard the reasons before--too phony, too glitzy, too whatever.

"I'm a Jersey boy," he announced proudly. "I feel out of place here."

Bon Jovi was born about 25 minutes north of Asbury Park, which has since become known as Bruce Springsteen's playground. He aligns himself with the Jersey elite--the Boss and Southside Johnny. They're part of his roots, along with, as Bon Jovi explained, R&B;, Motown and Aerosmith.

He prides himself on being down-to-earth, as far from the Hollywood hipster image as possible. "I live in this ratty little one-bedroom apartment on the beach," he said. "I like living there. I don't go for the glamour. I came here (his manager's office on Sunset Strip) in a cab, not a limo. I don't go to the hip places. I go to McDonald's regularly."

But he does savor a certain part of the rock 'n' roll life style. Bon Jovi, you see, has a reputation for being a woman-chaser.

"Correction," he said. "I don't have to chase them. They're there. It's one of the rewards of this job."

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