“It’s an interesting question to ask a man my age: 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 and played before tens of millions of fans in the course of an illustrious 26-year career would be content to rest on his considerable laurels, at least for a while.
You might think that, but you’d be wrong, and the new Bon Jovi album, The Circle, provides irrefutable proof. As its title suggests, The Circle marks a powerful reassertion of Bon Jovi’s commitment to the hard-hitting, uplifting rock & roll that has been the band’s indelible signature since it began. The band share an abiding bond that informs and defines their music. It is a circle that remains unbroken.
“The title is about our unity, which is our strength,. Having had 5 studio records in this decade, these songs mark a time not only in our life but in the band’s.” The Circle reflects and demonstrates the years and distance the men in that band have traveled. They are capable of looking inside themselves, but also outside at the larger world. And while they don’t always like what they see, they don’t see the cup as half empty. The new single “We Weren’t Born To Follow” and opening track “When We Were Beautiful” are as uplifting and anthemic as anything Bon Jovi and Sambora have ever written.
Another reason for the anthemic sound of THE CIRCLE is the re-emergence of Richie Sambora. “This is meant to be a stadium, turn-the-guitars-back-up record, and that’s about having Richie back,” Jon says. “I can’t tell you how much that’s meant. With me and Richie, one and one makes three. He’s on fire.”
That flame burns at the heart of The Circle. “When We Were Beautiful” shares its title with the superb Bon Jovi documentary by filmmaker Phil Griffin. Like the film, the song is atmospheric and haunting. It opens with a sense of crisis: “The world is cracked/The sky is torn.” Jon Bon Jovi hears the song as a true departure for the band. “That’s a unique song,” he says. “We’ve written hits, but this is something different. I didn’t want to sugarcoat things. Those lyrics are factual. As a country and as people, we hit a wall. But the idea is to try to get back to ‘when we were beautiful.’”
“As we were making this album, the world changed,” Jon says about the economic upheavals of the fall of 2008, “It was obvious that there were songs to be written about that. The album’s first single, “We Weren’t Born to Follow” is an uplifting universal theme. “It’s David against Goliath,” Jon says of the song, returning to one of his inveterate themes. “It’s the little guy screaming against the Establishment, and it’s a message that can be empowering.”
The issues come closer to home on “Work for the Working Man,” which Bon Jovi and Sambora wrote after Bon Jovi watched a “60 Minutes” piece about devastating factory closings in Wilmington, Ohio, Bon Jovi was inspired to write this lyric. A tense rhythmic pulse beats as Bon Jovi sings, “Lost my pension/They took my I.D./These were my friends/These were my dreams.” It’s a fanfare for the common man.
The new studio album, The Circle, was produced by John Shanks, who also worked with the band on the two preceding Bon Jovi albums, Lost Highway (2007) and Have a Nice Day (2005). The album has an underlying positive theme that is apparent throughout the songs. Whether it’s questioning your vitality in “Fast Cars,” asking if it’s all worth the fight in “Broken Promiseland,” or addressing work ethics in “Thorn In My Side.” The songs are about the prospect of people finding optimistic new directions in their lives.
So The Circle, then, like all of Bon Jovi’s best music, stares down the troubles that afflict our lives, and offers a bracing vision for overcoming those obstacles. It’s stirring, and it’s an emotion that, strong as the album is, will find its most convincing expression on the concert stage. And this is why Bon Jovi have managed to play over 3000 concerts to over 32 million fans in over 50 countries. “I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but I can’t wait to go on the road again,” Jon Bon Jovi exclaims.