Throughout Bon Jovi’s career there have always been songs which harked to a wider socially conscious level (‘Keep the Faith’, ‘Dry County’, ‘All I Want Is Everything’); however the torn side which they so effortlessly displayed in the Keep the Faith and These Days albums has only surfaced sparingly in recent years. Compared to several previous efforts The Circle has darker tones and socially conscious subject matter sweeping right across the record. There seems to be a real acceptance of the band to show their emotions of hurt and longing far more readily. Also, there is a sense of realism, maturity and perspective running right through the album where even upbeat anthems such as ‘We Weren’t Born to Follow’ proclaim not to give up but also don’t live in some fantasy either.
‘I’ve learned to pray but it’s too late now’
From the bleak angst of ‘Bullet’ to the inner look of ‘Thorn in my Side’, Bon Jovi created The Circle as almost a scrapbook of the world they see and feel. ’Bullet’s chorus questions faith in humanity ‘God are you listening or have You just given up?’ The song makes us look at ourselves, have we as a humanity pulled the trigger and spilt blood so many times that even God has had enough? The anger and puzzlement also comes out in the line ‘How can someone take a life in the name of God and say it’s right’. The song’s lyrics carry a feeling of hopelessness and being unable to comprehend the endless bloodshed which engulfs society today. In contrast, ‘Happy Now’ shows a more hopeful slant, no doubt bloomed from Jon’s involvement with President Obama but ‘When we were Beautiful’ is a social and political postcard from the era of where Jon longs the world to get back to. The lyrics paint a very deliberate picture of a muddled reality soaked in doubt, ‘Am I blessed or am I cursed cos the way we are ain’t the way we were’. Lyrically the track delves deeper than most on the album and takes the listener on a journey of yearning, despair and reflection.
‘If somebody sent you an angel to save you, what would you tell him to turn him away’
The sense of longing continues and is felt in ‘Superman Tonight’. Masked by soaring guitars the song is tinged with a sense of pain of not being able to pull someone out of their darkness. The Superman logo has become part of Jon’s identity but here he uses that strength as a wishful hope because he realises that there is no Superman, no ultimate hero or saviour. The narration has a feel of defeat and of not being strong enough to save those most dear to them which is a far cry from the anthemic power ballads of ‘I’ll Be There For You’ and ‘In These Arms’. The lyrical spike of hurt and loss only truly came to the fore when the band performed this acoustically on the The Circle/Greatest Hits tour where the song’s words elevated above the studio version.
The sense of identifying one’s limitations bounces right across the album. In ‘Work for the Working Man’ the poignant lyric ‘I only know what I know how to do’ is a heart wrenching line because it manages to convey both a sense of pride and helplessness. The undercurrent of realism and limitations occurs in ‘Fast Cars’ too, ‘How can I defend let’s live for now but not then’. It’s a song where Jon and Richie try to find a sense of personal freedom while dealing with life’s failings and hardships without pretending to make believe.
‘You leave it all on the table if lose or you win’
Although the likes of ‘Work for the Working Man’ and ‘Bullet’ are sources of social commentary, the band’s more personal emotions come to the fore in ‘Learn to Love’. Here, the song touches on the subject of mortality which shows flashes of Bon Jovi’s willingness to display emotional vulnerability and ultimately, acceptance. ‘Learn to Love’ deals with finding that resolution in our own actions and having the willingness to let go of the regret of our past mistakes so that we can find compassion and forgiveness for who we are and for the tracks that we have laid. Whilst the chorus is penned as ‘you gotta learn to love the world your living in’, the ‘world’ is your own heart and soul, that lyric points itself directly to the listener, learn to love who you are. In many ways this song best reflects where mentally the band are right now as swashbuckling enthusiasm and wide eyed wonder has blended into resolution, contentment and drive. The band rarely touches the subject of life and death but it’s this extra layer in their song writing which is untapped. It has been touched upon by Jon himself that the These Days record contained many songs which were too personal to play live and showed his fragility and thus prefer not to perform such cuts such as ‘Hard Letting You Go’, ‘Something to Believe In’. However on The Circle/GH tour the band performed more songs from that album than the past few tours combined. Perhaps this is a sign that Bon Jovi are becoming more comfortable and willing to bare their soul and heartache on stage.
There is no denying that The Circle is a social glimpse of the murky times we live in; economic crisis to wars and revolutions but underneath that subject matter lays a light that shines on the personal growth of a band who have learned to love and live with who they are, albeit with a thorn in their side.
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About the Blogger:
Jag Lall is an artist and storyteller of social commentary and positive change. Involved in peace, interfaith and tolerance projects in all sorts of mediums, Jag Lall works on a wide range of media ranging from paintings, book covers to storyboards and music. You can find out more information on his website: www.jaglallart.com