"Blasphemy!" you groan. Sure Bon Jovi have sold over 130 million albums, but you shouldn't even mention Jon Bon and his boys in the same breath as Mick 'n Keith c'mon! But hey, if you must go all chronological critique, then surely the question should focus on their 11th studio albums: so is The Circle as good as The Stones' Let it Bleed?
Not even close. There's nothing as seminal as "Gimme Shelter" or "You Can't Always Get What You Want" anywhere in earshot here. But The Circle is still a damn fine album...in Bon Jovi's canon. Where 2007's Nashville hoedown, Lost Highway was a savvy – not to mention successful - move to extend their b®and into the lucrative country market, for more than a few Jon Bon converts those double cheese duets with the likes of LeAnn Rimes and Big & Rich were simply a corncob too far.
No surprise then that guitarist Richie Sambora felt the need to champion The Circle as a return to "rock and roll" in a pre-release interview with Rolling Stone Magazine. And it is. But it isn’t what Stones guitarist Keith Richards was talking about when he infamously chirped that "rock and roll [is] music for the neck downwards."
Nope. Bon Jovi's back to rock basics means big bloated hooks, overcooked choruses and ultra-polished power ballads. "This one goes out to the sinner and the cynical...this road was paved by the hopeless and the hungry....how will you raise your hand when they call your name?" asks Jon (rhetorically, of course) on "Blaze of Glory" resurrection "We Weren't Born to Follow".
How the hell can he be sincere singing this shtick, you wonder? No, of course you don't. Instead you ease your SUV into second gear in peak hour traffic and pump your fist while chanting along to a succession of sha-la-la singalongs about the good old days ("When We Were Beautiful"), piano powered pit stops about seizing the moment ("Live Before You Die"), arena rock lighter waivers about the thrill of still being your wife's knight in shining armour ("Superman Tonight") and Springsteen-lite pub rock daydreams about selling the house and hitting the road one day when the kids have grown up ("Fast Cars").
This doesn't mean that it's 100% adult contemporary rock hell though. When Jon trots out a cod-philosophical cliché like "What is the distance between a bullet and a gun? God are you listening or have you given up?" on "Bullet" Richie and producer-guest guitarist John Shanks turn up their amps to ten (okay, 8 ½) in an attempt to give the message an authentic rock medium. Surprise pick of the drive time pack is "Work for the Working Man", which sees the band recycling their signature blue collar anthem dollar with some dynamic guitar, drum and bass interplay that's so funky you can't help but sing along.