BON JOVI: THE CIRCLE (2009)
1) We Weren't Born To Follow; 2) When We Were Beautiful; 3) Work For The Working Man; 4) Superman Tonight; 5) Bullet; 6) Thorn In My Side; 7) Live Before You Die; 8) Brokenpromiseland; 9) Love's The Only Rule; 10) Fast Cars; 11) Happy Now; 12) Learn To Love.
The best I can say here is that at least they had the good sense to swerve off that cheeky country road. The Circle is, without a doubt, a «rock» album again, with bluesy electric riffs reclaiming their territory back from twangy slides, and lyrics about the world and its problems stealing our attention away from lyrics about traveling on lost highways, breaking up, patching up, breaking up again, and romancing the local ranch lady 'til the cows come home. So, at the very least, Jon and Richie are back on their natural turf where they are theoretically capable of doing something as good as... well, at least as good as a whole album of ʽWe Got It Going Onʼ.
Unfortunately, theory and practice rarely go hand in hand when you deal with aging rockers who were never all that awesome to begin with. In general, The Circle follows the same standards as Have A Nice Day — lots of stale rock'n'roll with worn-out hooks, lots of self-repetition and not a lot of energy. I mean, if the album really "sounds fresh", as Richie claimed in an interview (and what else could he have claimed?), why is it that the foundational bass line of ʽWork For The Working Manʼ is taken directly from ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ? Or why is it that the lead single, ʽWe Weren't Born To Followʼ, sounds like ʽBorn To Be My Babyʼ and ʽIt's My Lifeʼ at the exact same time? Whatever be the general case, The Circle, as an LP, was certainly born to follow; it is very hard for me to name even one single outstanding moment on the entire record.
Here is one funny bit of brainwork: I thought that, although the song itself was totally formulaic and dull, Sambora's guitar solo on ʽThorn In My Sideʼ somehow did stand out, and even managed to set the jaded spirit on fire for a few bars. How and why remained unclear, but then it dawned upon me, as that important third listen came around, that it was really simple — all he had to do was lift a few licks from Lindsey Buckingham's guitar solo on ʽGo Your Own Wayʼ. Subconsciously, perhaps, but the songs do have similar chorus beats, so it may have triggered some special mechanism. And in this way, what officially looks like a third-rate Fleetwood Mac imitation becomes the best moment on The Circle.
Of course, we also have ourselves some talkbox, because a Bon Jovi album just ain't a proper Bon Jovi without some legitimate pig grunting (the completely unremarkable otherwise ʽBulletʼ); we have ourselves some de-lovely ballads (ʽLearn To Loveʼ, in case you still haven't after decades of professional scholarship under the guidance of Jon Bon Jovi, Ph. D.); and we do have one or two attempts at «modernizing» their sound — ʽLove's The Only Ruleʼ, with its dutifully «electronized» lead guitar, is probably the best example. I forget, though, who they are imitating here... U2? Must be U2, I guess. They probably wouldn't have heard of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Besides, they weren't born to follow, at least not those who were born after them. Following U2, chronology-wise, does not violate the rules of filial piety.
It's not as if they seem totally incapable of putting out another record that would at least be on the level of Crush and Bounce — they just don't seem to care all that much, or perhaps they just leave it all in the hands of the producer. On Bounce, they had the good luck of having David Campbell, a musician ten times the size of anyone in the band, write orchestrations for them; on The Circle, they put themselves at the mercy of John Shanks, whose past credits include Miley Cyrus, Take That, Jessica Simpson, the Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, and, uh, Lindsey Lohan (remember her?). (Admittedly, he also co-produced Fleetwood Mac's Say You Will, which was a fine recording, but it is hard to imagine Lindsey Buckingham not supervising his work every inch of the way). All very safe, predictable, glossy à la 2009, and completely without any surprises — hence, a natural thumbs down.