''Here begins the land of Oz,'' Jon Bon Jovi declares, ushering guests into his basement studio, where he's offering a preview of his forthcoming These Days. With indie rock's taste for home recording, New Jersey's second-most-famous rocker seems poised to assume his place among underground do-it-yourself heroes.
Then again, maybe not. True, he did much of the band's recording in the suburban Rumson, N.J., digs he shares with wife Dorothea, son Jesse James, four months, and Stephanie Rose, 2. And true, he has lopped off several inches of hair. But Bon Jovi, 33, remains the once and future king of the power ballad. As evidence, producer Obie O'Brien pops a tape of the album's lead track, ''Hey God,'' into a tape deck. It is classic Bon Jovi: as crisp, polished, and anthemic as their '80s hits ''Runaway'' and ''Wanted Dead or Alive.'' Jon, after four months of toil, is less crisp: ''I feel like I'm playing my homework or something,'' he says tensely.
There's reason for concern. The band's last studio album, 1992's Keep the Faith, was something of a disappointment, selling 2 million copies in America when the previous two albums, Slippery When Wet and New Jersey, had sold 10 and 6 million copies, respectively. Faith's comparatively lackluster sales raised the uncomfortable possibility that earnest hair rock might be a thing of the past.
Granted, these are problems only a superstar could appreciate. Because, even if the album stalls Stateside, it will doubtless take off in Asia, where the quartet still rules the charts. In fact, the band is off to tour the Far East in a week, and Jon and O'Brien are racing to finish mixing B sides. ''I would follow the truck to the record store trying to change things if I could,'' admits Jon of his perfectionism. ''It's why I can't listen to my old records. When you've been that involved in every little detail, you just can't go back to it.''