bon joviThey’re one of rock’s great survivors and if they’re no longer Livin’ On A Prayer – all their prayers have been answered including that dream slot on X Factor – then Bon Jovi are still, at least, living.

With five number one albums under their belts in the UK alone it’s not as if Jon and the boys really need to work these days. Or at least they don’t have to work too hard.

But a lot of effort has gone into latest release The Circle and with an o2 Arena residency on the cards Bon Jovi is still a band demanding attention. So we’re giving them it in the shape of a full review.  

Bon Jovi – The Circle (Mercury)

Bon Jovi may have become middle-of-the-road pop rockers in their later years (or maybe they always were) but there’s still one very good reason for listening to the band’s latest material. And that reason is Richie Sambora.

The only individual other than Jon Bon Jovi given a songwriting credit on each of The Circle’s 12 tracks, he is as essential to the New Jersey act’s success as the main man. Without Sambora it’s unlikely there would be a Bon Jovi.

And so if the majority of another made-for-enormodomes album is too predictable to really rock out there are the riffs and the solos to savour. And as usual Sambora delivers a masterclass in slick musicianship.

His brief but uplifting solo lights up the otherwise tame lead single We Weren’t Born To Follow but Richie really comes into his own on the excellent When We Were Beautiful. It’s a good song given credence by a great tune and knocks spots off it’s lame predecessor.

The understated Living On A Prayer-style groove of Work For The Working Man is typical Bon Jovi fare but it’s increasingly uncomfortable hearing the multi-millionaire US rockers singing about their fellow countrymen struggling in the face of the current economic crisis. It’s clearly well-meant but it doesn’t quite work. For the working man, or anyone else for that matter.

Sambora is back to his best on obvious future single Superman Tonight – an uplifting power ballad punctuated by some seriously urgent axe work. But it’s after this point that the album drifts into an over-complacent mid-section with throwaway fillers Bullet (bar the Slash-esque solo) and Thorn In My Side B-sides at best for a band with so many anthemic hits under their belts. Live Before I Die is like Always but not as good – yet it still manages to get The Circle back on track.

Then comes the Child’s play. Desmond Child, that is. The renowned hit maker contributes to four of the final five songs on The Circle and his touch, however light or heavy, still makes for a quality rock sound after all of these years.

Brokenpromiseland’s ambient intro is more U2 than Bon Jovi but it’s not long before the singalong chorus and strings kick in to create an instantly Child friendly tune. And Sambora’s gritty solo may be criminally short but it’s incredibly sweet.

The theme continues on Fast Cars (think lyrics like ‘the highway of life’ and so on) and the even cheesier Learn To Love. Child’s stamp is written all over the latter and while we’ve kinda heard it before it’s great to hear it again.

Why his work doesn’t feature on the first half of The Circle is anyone’s guess but Sambora’s influence is ubiquitous. And that’s reason enough to take a chance on yet another guaranteed big seller from the prolific Bon Jovi stable.

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Bon Jour