A quarter century in, Bon Jovi makes the most vital album of their career with The Circle. It’s not just a return to the rock power anthems we expect from Bon Jovi after a slight detour into country power anthems on 2007’s Lost Highway, it’s total fucking dominance of the rock power anthem. You’ll hear songs from this album in locker rooms, auto ads, and on the campaign trail for years to come.
Two intertwined things make The Circle work so well. One, it’s the Bon Jovi-est album Bon Jovi has ever made. They haven’t merely refined their sound, they’ve definitively mastered it. “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, “Live Before You Die” and especially “Work for the Working Man” actually include immediately identifiable elements of previous Bon Jovi hits and repurpose them into mostly better songs. Two, the album is essentially a song-cycle about the shitstorm of economic uncertainty and cultural fear America has created around itself.
“Work for the Working Man” is one of the album’s most intriguing and most problematic songs. It’s a remake of 1987’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” for the Corporate Bailout Era. While it’s pretty righteous to hear JBJ howl for American labour, the song lacks the emotional power that came with “LOAP”’s narrative of Tommy and Gina. Sure, that’s a trick Bon Jovi stole from Springsteen, but it’s a good trick and it works. The lyrics of “Working Man” have no such emotional hook and, though the chorus does its best, it never quite achieves the resonance of “Livin’ On A Prayer.”
It’s Recession Rock, with a Bon Jovi twist: In the internal logic of all Bon Jovi songs, there are no problems that can’t be solved by some brash expression of rugged individualism, like driving a fast car, playing baseball or saying “Yeah!” Hey, this is Jon Bon Jovi, not John Kenneth Galbraith.