Bon Jovi – The Circle (2009, Universal/Island)
- We Weren’t Born To Follow
- When We Were Beautiful
- Work For The Working Man
- Superman Tonight
- Thorn In My Side
- Live Before You Die
- Love’s The Only Rule
- Fast Cars
- Happy Now
- Learn To Love
Jon Bon Jovi – Lead Vocals
Richie Sambora – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Tico Torres – Drums & Percussion
David Bryan – Keyboards
Hugh MacDonald – Bass
Charlie Judge – additional Keyboards & Strings
Produced by: John Shanks, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora
Total Time = 52:49
I’ve been a Bon Jovi fan from way back in ’83 but I haven’t really been into the band for a few years now. Back when I was a kid, I was into the debut album and 7800° FAHRENHEIT (1985) right away with hard Rock songs like ‘She Don’t Know Me’, ‘Runaway’, ‘Tokyo Road’ and ‘In & Out Of Love’. Of course I followed the band through SLIPPERY WHEN WET (1986) and NEW JERSEY (1988), even catching both tours when they came through Rhode Island. The I lost touch of Bon Jovi. It wasn’t until their comeback album CRUSH (2000), and the hit single ‘It’s My Life’, that I bought a new Bon Jovi album. Since CRUSH, I haven’t really bothered with the band anymore due to the changes in their sound. Gone are most of the Hard Rock trademarks that made the band the success it is today and in are more Pop, Country and singer/songwriter influences…..a more mature sound for a more mature audience. I’ve let the last three studio albums pass by despite a couple of catchy single but, for some strange reason, I wanted to pick this album up right away!
THE CIRCLE opens with the ‘We Weren’t Born to Follow’, a song that has that big Arena Rock sound but it sounds very similar to ‘It’s My Life’ from 2000 with some similar parts of ‘Born To Be My Baby’ on the chorus. It’s a very catchy song, uptempo and melodic with that feel good vibe that Bon Jovi does so well. Same thing goes with ‘Work For The Working Man’, it has that classic sound that mimics the mega-hit ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ especially on the bass line! Another big song for the concert circuit and possible radio single that channels fellow New Jersey resident Bruce Springsteen’s working class songwriting. I have always wondered what would happen if The Boss, JBJ and John Mellencamp would come up with if they sat in a room together and write a song, they all follow the same pattern. Sandwiched between these two rockers is the light ballad ‘When We Were Beautiful’ (also the title of the accompanying DVD). I’m not really sure what to make of this song, its definitely a radio song because it’s very Pop and pretty and Jon’s vocals are pretty good…..it has a big/full sound but it’s way too light for my tastes. I feel the same way about ‘Superman Tonight’, it has a big sound and there are some Rock flashes there but it sounds too mainstream, too Pop Rock, as if the band is going out of there way to get radio and VH-1 airplay. It’s not a bad song, the chorus saves it, but it’s not something I like.
The opening guitar of ‘Bullet’ signals a Hard Rock tune and this is the closest we’re going to get. The guitars and drums make the song and I am waiting for the harder edge to prevail but it’s more melodic and contemporary overall. The guitar solo is one of the best on the album and the harmonies are spot on, I think the lyrics and the arrangement waste the solid riffs. ‘Thorn In My Side’ starts off very ballad-like but it picks up steam and become a solid rocker. I like this one, it keeps an edge to the album and shows that Bon Jovi can still Rock a bit. Ballad time comes in with ‘Live Before You Die’ complete with emotional singing from Jon and perfect harmonies on the chorus. The orchestration and keyboards are well done and the song does build up harder in spots…..it’s not a bad song at all and the lyrics tell a story, something this band has never had a problem doing. ‘BrokenPromiseLand’ sounds pretty much like the rest of the other songs on the album and the song title bugs me, not one of my favorites. If you think that Bon Jovi copying their own songs is a problem then the opening to ‘Love’s The Only Rule’ sounds like a keyboard loop of Neil Diamond’s ‘Coming To America’…..and it annoyingly runs through the entire song. The song isn’t too bad at all, it actually has some rocking moments but David Bryan’s keyboards are a little overbearing.
I’m not really sure what the band is attempting with ‘Fast Cars’. The song title had me hoping for a Hard Rock song but it’s more like a Pop Rock song with plenty of keyboards that some band half their age would release. I read many reviews online that compared this song to Coldplay. Having never heard any Coldplay songs, I can’t confirm that but it can’t be good either. ‘Happy Now’ follows the rest of the uptempo songs on the album but it really doesn’t resonate with me, it sounds like everything else and doesn’t have much impact. The last song is ‘Learn To Love’ and it’s another ballad with some excellent harmonies and a big sound on the chorus but it kind of ends THE CIRCLE on a down note. Not that it’s a bad song but it just slowly ends, i’d rather end on a high note with an uptempo rocker.
I really wanted to pick up this new Bon Jovi album and I definitely wanted to give it a fair shot because the last few songs I’ve heard on the radio from previous releases were pretty good. The band has shown flashes of their ’80s success recently with catchy melodic rockers ont he radio, I was hoping for a lot of that on THE CIRCLE. The band delivers some but not a lot. There is a more contemporary sound, a lighter sound, that seems like the band is more concerned with the more commercial Pop Rock style of today rather than the Hard Rock style that put them on the map. Bon Jovi has always been about the songs and the JBJ/Sambora writing team has done a good job in creating songs with good melodies, insightful lyrics and trademark harmonies…..it’s just that after a while all the songs start to sound the same. I understand the band has long since removed itself from writing party rock anthems like ‘Bad Medicine’ and ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ to go in a more mature and sincere direction but I kind of hoped that a little more fire would be lit into the songs. Long time fans of the band will really enjoy this album and I can see a lot of these songs getting some time on stage during the band’s upcoming tour but fans of the ’80s Hard Rock style will be disappointed. There are some songs that lean back into that ’80s style but THE CIRCLE as a whole is directed more to contemporary Pop Rock with flashes of a harder edge mixed in. This definitely isn’t the worst Bon Jovi album but it also isn’t their best. I’d call it an average album for me, nothing to get too excited about and nothing overly surprising.
‘We Weren’t Born To Follow’, ‘Working For The Working Man’, ‘Thorn In My Side’, ‘Live Before You Die’