Bon Jovi

The Circle

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One thing buried amidst all Bon Jovi's detours of the new millennium -- there wasn't just 2007's contemporary country Lost Highway, there was the acoustic reworking of hits This Left Feels Right in 2003 -- is that the group has been sober-minded throughout the decade, reacting to 9/11 on 2002's Bounce, exploring the morass of W's America on 2005's Have a Nice Day, and now creating a soundtrack for the Great Recession on 2009's The Circle. Subtlety has never been a concern for Bon Jovi, so the group makes it plain that they will be the ones to "Work for the Working Man," while they wonder "who's gonna bail out all our shattered dreams" on "Brokenpromiseland." Explicit references to the broken state of blue collar America pile up throughout The Circle, but instead of setting these wannabe working man anthems to the kind of Springsteen-esque rock that's their trademark, Bon Jovi, with the assistance of producer John Shanks, have decided to make their own version of a U2 album, apparently because no other sound sounds as serious as U2. Everything on The Circle exists in a big wide open space conjured by echoed, delayed guitars, shimmering keyboards, and spacious rhythms, an atmosphere that's just as likely to recast the "Living on a Prayer" bassline as something as sadly ominous as it is to ease into chanted, African-inspired vocal hooks ("When We Were Beautiful"), both signifiers of the band's pensive pretension. A knack for oversized choruses remains hardwired in Bon Jovi, but in this gloomy context, they act as reminders that they once sounded like they were a working band for working men instead of rich men fretting about a world they've long left behind.

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