"It's an interesting question to ask: Is that a fair dose of motivation or is that a chip on your shoulder?" Jon Bon Jovi posed that question to himself, and it's worth pondering. You might think that a man whose band has sold more than 120 million records … see full wiki
For me, 'The Circle' is probably the best Bon Jovi album since 2002's release of Bounce. Ever since then, it's felt like Bon Jovi was mellowing and going away from their roots as they experimented with taking the rock out of their songs and playing with acoustics (as with This Left Feels Right: Greatest Hits With a Twist) or watered-down pop (as with Have a Nice Day) or country (as with their last release Lost Highway). While I know one of these three albums struck a chord with new and old fans alike, as a hardcore Bon Jovi fan, these lacked what 'The Circle' has. It's back to rock, it's back to the stadium anthems and 1980s vibe and spirit that the group seemed to have strayed from. In all, this is probably one of the most unexpected musical surprises for me in 2009; not only did Bon Jovi return but they came back with a heavy-hitting rock album that really holds nothing back and sounds as if it belonged among some of their best albums like 'Slippery When Wet' and 'New Jersey'.
The Good: There's much to like about this album. The overall direction of this album feels somewhat retro; this doesn't sound at all like what Bon Jovi's produced as of late. It was true return to their roots with lots of guitar riffs and heavy drums (such as on "Work For the Working Man", an anthem for middle-class America); there was more depth and emotion packed into the music such as the reflective "When We Were Beautiful" and "Live Before You Die". Even though the music sounds dated with its 1980s rock treatment, the lyrics feel very modern and current, a penchant that attributes to Bon Jovi's popularity throughout the past few decades. If there's a theme to 'The Circle' it's optimism in the face of adversity and challenges. Whether it's through asking for love and compassion as in "Bullet", encouraging you to get the most out of life as with "Live Before You Die" or simply surviving heartbreak as in "Thorn In My Side", 'The Circle' feels very inspiring and encompassing. The last few albums from this group left me somewhat uninterested because they felt like concept albums; deliberately dabbling in country or putting aside their personality and rock background for something different. That was okay, but 'The Circle' packs a punch. It's far more emotional, leaves a lasting impression, is more catchier than the group's efforts in the 2000s. This album definitely got me excited and has me listening from track one to the end without skipping, a rare quality in many releases these days.
The Bad: There are a few songs that didn't work as much for me as others. "Superman Tonight" is my least favorite on the album; yes, it's rock but it felt like an attempt at a rock-love song but lacks sentiment and emotion. It also felt like a re-hashing of music the group's done before because they've made reference to 'Superman' in the context of love and relationships before on previous albums and this track just didn't vibe as well with the rest of the record. "Loves The Only Rule" is another track that didn't click with me; it's not as rock orientated and more pop and feels like an outtake from 'Have a Nice Day'. These two tracks aren't horrible but they feel awkward and disrupt the flow of the album just a bit.
When We Were Beautiful (DVD): The Good - It's beautifully shot in crisp, all black and white. It includes snippets of live performances from the 'Have a Nice Day' and 'Lost Highway' tours. It features all of the members of Bon Jovi, giving them each a moment to shine and explain what they contribute to the group. Probably the most poignant moment was Richie Sambora describing his personal troubles in a very candid manner and how work and Jon Bon Jovi keeps him in line. The Bad - the documentary is a tad bit lagging. Jon Bon Jovi spends a good portion of the album playing the 'it's lonely at the top' role; he and others in the group casts himself in the role of leader and creative genius and explains that he's responsible for so much that he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. Hearing him complain about the woes of fame scene after scene got a bit irritating and annoying.
In all, if you're a fan of old-school Bon Jovi, 'The Circle' is going to please you. It's a definite return to form and ditches the mellow/country vibe the band's been playing with for the last few years. This edition also comes with a DVD of a mini behind the scenes documentary that celebrates the group's 26 years in the business. While the casual fan may not find the 'When We Were Beautiful' documentary interesting, die-hard fans will definitely be pleased with it and should check out Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful, a book of photos that covers the groups history in addition to this special edition. It's refreshing, invigorating, rock music; something that's very rare and missing in today's music market. Because it's not country or mainstream, and because it's more akin to what was popular in the '80s rather than what's en vogue today, some may dismiss or overlook 'The Circle' but I encourage everyone to give it a listen. Definitely more fun, inspired and better produced than most of the group's 2000s efforts. Definitely worthy of your listening to and purchase.
Listen to These: "When We Were Beautiful", "Happy Now", "Live Before You Die", "Learn to Love", "We Weren't Born to Follow"
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