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.
My 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.