REVIEW: Bon Jovi – The Circle (2009 CD/DVD edition)

CIRCLE_0004BON JOVI – The Circle (2009 Island CD/DVD edition)

The Circle is an apt title for this Bon Jovi album. They returned from their pop country detour down the Lost Highway and returned to essentially exactly where they were on the previous album, Have A Nice Day. If you are familiar with Bon Jovi, you know that Have A Nice Day was an OK record full of pop rock like “Last Cigarette”, modern and slick. That’s what this record is too, but that’s starting to get a little old.

First single “We Weren’t Born To Follow” (I find that title ironic as Bon Jovi didn’t spend much of their career leading, musically) is a great, uptempo song with a catchy chorus and slick guitar playing by Richie Sambora. It’s another in a long succession of latter day Pop Jovi successes. The best tune on this record is the the “statement song” regarding the economic collapse: “Work For The Working Man”. However, isn’t there something we’ve heard here before? Doesn’t Hugh McDonald’s bassline sound a lot like the one from “Livin’ On A Prayer”?  Even if it’s little more than a rewrite of the same hook, it’s a great song with a powerful chorus.  It has some muscle to it, and is one of the few songs on the album that does.  Rhythmic and strong, this echoes not only “Prayer” but also “Keep The Faith” in some respects.

Elsewhere on the album, there are some intriguing sounds that almost remind me of the back-to-basics goodness that was These Days, and the heavier moments on Bounce (see: “Bullet”).  However “Bullet” is also bears unpleasant similarities to Collective Soul. There are also moments that take me back to Lost Highway and Crush ,but not in a good way.  Songs like “Fast Cars” and “Brokenpromiseland” (ugh!) just sit there like the flaccid Pop Jovi songs that they are.  Bon Jovi are on cruise control.

CIRCLE_0002My two favourite Bon Jovi albums of recent vintage (ie: post-Keep the Faith) are the criminally underrated These Days, and Bounce. What the band need to do is: A) get their MVP back, Mr. Richie Sambora.  B) write an album without all these outside writers like John Shanks and Billy Falcon, based on rock and roll, not the radio.  The Circle is close at times.  “Learn To Love” for example was written by Jon and Richie with Desmond Child, and approaches a vintage These Days epic quality.

How likely is Bon Jovi to rock out like they used to? The DVD documentary included with this edition of The Circle is not encouraging. Entitled When We Were Beautiful (named for the U2-like song on the album), it is an insightful look into the inner workings of Bon Jovi.  It also has some enticing live clips. (Please, Jon, please! Release a full length audio version of Richie singing “I’ll Be There  For You”, it’s great!) However it is quite clear that Jon is the driving force of the band, and the rest of the guys are salaried employees of the corporation.  Jon is very clear that he’s a businessman and he must make albums that he thinks people will like.  It’s unfortunate that he’s decided that pop music is the answer.  I think it’s unlikely Jon will be breaking new ground again soon.

But you never know.

3/5 stars

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53 comments

  1. I’m fairly certain at this point that this is the last Bon Jovi album I will ever buy. And even then I only really bought it for the documentary. Otherwise, I might have passed on this too. (And I probably should have, the documentary didn’t do them any favours either. What a joyless bunch!)

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    1. Oh and regarding joyless: The guys in Bon Jovi seemed to have accepted long ago that they are a backing band and nothing more. A well paid backing band. They show up to work and do their jobs and that’s how it looked to me in that documentary.

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        1. Perhaps Jon has his head so far up his ass, that he thought people would enjoy seeing what is behind the curtain, not realizing some things are best left to the imagination. Then we could have at least pretended there was some kind of passion involved.

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        2. Yes, well put. Bon Jovi should release one final single: “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead or When Richie Leaves (Whichever Comes First)”. Then call it a day. The end!

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        3. Should I tweet Jon, or you? I think you. After all, you got David Coverdale interested in your idea for a DVD title, didn’t you?

          Between you and 1537’s personal friendship with Mark Wilkinson, I feel like I’m surrounded by stars.

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  2. Yeah the documentary did not faze me at all when I watched it….just a businessman running a Corperation that’s all folks and that Corperation makes sterile rock basically a modern day Muzak elevator rock schlock .
    Totally no interest in The Circle and the most I got out of it Mike was reading your review.
    So for that props my friend….
    But for me and I have said it before this band enede for me after Keep The Faith…
    I still bought The Greatest Hits(94) These Days(so so) Bounce (1 so) and Than I was officially out from littering JBJ’s pockets anymore…..
    Shit maybe to get some rock cred back he could go and do a 2014 version of Heads I Win Tails You lose with Ratt again as there needing a vocalist……
    Man that Detotonater was a criminally underrated album….

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    1. Yup Deke I don’t see any reason to continue giving Jon a chance. Not unless a future Richie comeback ushered in a new era of quality. But I don’t predict that happening.

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  3. I remember watching something on TV years ago…Dateline? I can’t remember which news source type show it was… where they interviewed Bon Jovi and the band said that, yeah, they are salaried employees. It was a while ago (10 years?), to coincide with Jon being on an episode of Sex and the City and it talked about his success. It sort of took the joy out of Bon Jovi for me…how frank he was, how the band were happy to have a job, but that they were being led around and told what to perform…like the backing bands of Motown. Especially since I didn’t feel he is that great of an actor. The news show made him look like a dick. Now every time I hear Bon Jovi play, I think of them in that context. I wish I still had that mystique about them. I know too much to enjoy them now!!

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    1. Yeah I think that about sums it up. I didn’t know he was on Sex and the City. Oh, Samantha, did she go down BJ alley?

      Can you judge a rock star by their TV cameos? David Lee Roth was on the Sopranos…

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      1. In Sex and the City, Carrie and BJ meet at a Psychiatrist’s office. Carrie is trying to figure out why she keeps going for emotional distant men, and BJ was going because he can’t development any emotional attachments to anyone. It basically showcased his good looks.

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        1. I have no problem that I have missed that. (And yes I have seen many episodes.)

          In Moonlight and Valentino, he had a scene where he was hired as a house painter, and all the girls think he’s Italian and can’t speak English. So Elizabeth Perkins and Whoopie Goldberg and whoever else is standing there checking out his ass, saying things about what they’d like to do to him, and good thing he doesn’t speak English.

          Then he finishes painting and walks over to the ladies and says something along the lines of, “I’m all done and cleaned up for the day, I’m glad that you think I have a great ass, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

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        2. Oh yeah, I forgot about that movie – I remember liking it too! I might try to find it to watch it again.

          That Sex and the City ep. I consider a throwaway for that season. Not that great of an episode. I am the S&TS guru on the mountain. Know basically every episode. The one with David Duchovny was also a throwaway. And Matthew McConnaughey…

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        1. I think Nuge played a drug dealer at the time..still remember them playing the song Little Miss Dangerous…must publicity he got off that album…..having said that check out the track Painkiller off of it. One of his best I say!

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        2. Gene Simmons would be on anything. I’ve seen him on so many damn shows over the years! Millenium, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, etc…actually all 4 original Kiss members were on Millenium, both as themselves (only seen in costume) and then each member also had small unmasked cameos as well, playing other characters.

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    1. What bugged me about Have A Nice Day was mostly the lyric. “When the world gets in my face I SAY! Have a nice day!” Really? That’s what you say when the world gets in your face? I say two words.

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  4. I love the cover art. It’s either “no, no guys! Turn around and go INTO the light!” or they should’ve been all posing out with little pistols like a James Bond intro. They totally missed their chance, there.

    I think you’re right, Mike. It may be a while (or never?) before JBJ and crew make anything other than middle of the road pop. The heavy stuff on Bounce would’ve been a better direction.

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  5. It is still is kinda weird all these years later, Hugh McDonald is not officially photographed with the rest of the band on the disc artwork and covers. I know he doesn’t have (pretty/any) hair, but that is bizarre. Strangely, when you do JBJ-related content, it sure does fill up the comment section!

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    1. True observation Brian. Also worth noting is Daryl Jones’ lack of appearance with the Rolling Stones, and he’s been with them for as long as McDonald’s been with Bon Jovi. I don’t really get it.

      There are articles out there on the Web that allege Hugh played most of the bass on every single Bon Jovi from the very beginning, and Alec was hired mostly to be a “face”.

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      1. Thing is, Hugh’s name is on every Bon Jovi record so I guess he might helped out a little here and there. But I’ve seen Alec live so many times and I know the guy’s a really good bass player with a good voice.
        I’m sure Hugh played on some stuff – I know he played on Runaway – but I think Alec did the most of the playing.

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        1. Runaway is a weird one though. Nobody from Bon Jovi plays on it. Tim Pierce played guitar. I believe they called themselves the All-Star Revue or something like that.

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        2. Yeah cause Runaway was recorded before Jon got the band together. Roy Bittan plays keyboards, Frankie LaRocka (??) plays drums.
          But there are all sorts of additional players listed on Bon Jovi’s debut. Aldo Nova is on it, Chuck Bürgi (Rainbow) is on it, Hugh MacDonald is listed besides Runaway. And someone named Doug Kastoras.

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  6. Say hello to Mr Chainsaw… :-D
    Ahhh. This album blows dog! Really! It’s not as lousy as Lost Highway. That sucked big time. I wouldn’y even know how to rate it. One fart out of 10? And I remember Richie Sambora trying to sell this piece of garbage with “we’re back to rocking again”. Oh really? What happened was that they wrote the same useless middle-of-the-road pop tunes and added a little more guitars. C’mon, Richie, you know as well as everybody else that that don’t equals rocking. It’s still pop – cheesy pop – but in a disguise. That said I do prefer this over What About Now as well, but I wouldn’t pay for this under gun point.
    I haven’t bought a Bon Jovi (B.J. is short for Bon Jovi… kinda funny, right? :-D) album since Bounce and I guess I won’t ever spend a dime on them ever again. I’m not sure I should have bought Bounce either, but I got it cheap (or maybe sheep, because it’s so baaaaa-aaa-aaddd…).
    No good songs on this one, the best on here might come off as mediocre, so I think 3/5 was a really kind rating, Mike. I’d give this a 2/10, only because I’d give Lost Highway 1/10.
    This is sad. I used to love Bon Jovi, but I think their lates great album was Keep The Faith.

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      1. Haha. Really? But why? You should sell them and buy four Winger CDs instead. ;-)
        Yeah, I’d love to read a review on that one. But I don’t think I have a chainsaw sharp enough for that one.

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