REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/28/2009
Bon Jovi have tackled some pretty major issues on their socially-conscious albums of late. Bounce dealt with 9/11 and its aftermath, and Have A Nice Day harbored some very despondent messages for President Bush and his administration. This time around, they have taken the state of their local and global economies to serve as the narrative for The Circle, their eleventh studio album. While I do admire artists who write about the world around them and engage in social commentary with their audiences, it doesn’t always make for great music, and this is the problem I have with this particular record.
Truth be told, Bon Jovi hasn’t released a truly good album since 2000’s Crush, and while The Circle is a very disappointing release, it does happen to be their most inspired work since that record. If that sounds a tad confusing, then I apologize, but allow me to explain. Musically speaking, this is a reenergized band trying some new tricks, all the while delivering an album in their signature sound. Lyrically, however, it is your typical run-of-the-mill Bon Jovi disc, one that’s been made almost a dozen times over.
Jon’s voice is still perky and slightly raspy, but on a lot of these tracks he just sounds dead boring. This is, of course, in direct contrast with the smiling, sexy, and energetic frontman that he is onstage. Just why he can’t take that guy into the studio I’ll never know. Polished into a glossy fuzz by John Shanks, JBJ, and Richie Sambora, The Circle just comes off a little too careful and clean for me to really get excited about anything I hear here.
Opener “We Weren’t Born To Follow” is just a lame attempt at rewriting “It’s My Life,” right down to the first few lines. “Work For The Working Man” could easily be mistaken for a stripped-down version of “Livin’ On A Prayer,” which I probably would have preferred, to be honest. “Live Before You Die” is the kind of song that JBJ could write in his sleep – in fact, it sounds like he did just that going by his dreary delivery.
Songs like “Brokenpromiseland” and “Thorn In My Side” really offer nothing new musically, but they are lyrically at least among the stronger tracks to be found here. The Circle isn’t all that bad, though, and surprisingly it’s one of the ballads that is the best song by far. “When We Were Beautiful” is a great song that is right up there in my book among their finest (power) ballads. “Superman Tonight” is a wonderful rocker that hits all the right spots and finds JBJ at his most inspired. That is followed with the heaviest track on the album, the short and to-the-point “Bullet.”
Oddly, the last four tracks on the record are all strong enough to almost save the day for the band. “Love’s The Only Rule” is vintage Bon Jovi, as is the understated “Fast Cars.” Coupled with the awesome groove of “Happy Now” and the beautiful ballad “Learn To Love,” it almost makes up for the lackluster first half of the album. But not quite – it’s just a case of too little, too late. Six strong songs and six duds are never going to cut it, especially for this band. So despite the excellent sales figure (for today’s market), I’m still waiting for the next great Bon Jovi album – hell, I’ll even settle for a good one.