Bon Jovi, 'The Circle' ★ 1/2 (out of four)"Who's gonna work for the working man?" wonders Jon Bon Jovi on the new album by the long-running outfit that bears his name. Well, Bon Jovi is up to the job: On "The Circle" (Island), this band of Jersey boys makes a recession-appropriate return (after appealing forays into pop and country) to its old blue-collar arena-rock style; "Work for the Working Man" even recycles the pumping talk-box groove from the band's 1986 smash "Livin' on a Prayer," and lifts the factory-floor sound effects from Billy Joel's "Allentown" for good measure.
These guys obviously mean business when it comes to the victims of big business.
Produced -- as were the band's previous two discs -- by Top 40 staple John Shanks, "The Circle" shows off Bon Jovi's still-sharp knack for wedding blandly optimistic sentiments to predictably soaring choruses. Unfortunately, it's getting pretty hard to tell one song from the next: First the singer's telling us "We Weren't Born to Follow," then he's remembering "When We Were Beautiful"; later, he reveals that "Love's the Only Rule" before demanding that we "Learn to Love."
After all that sloganeering, "Fast Cars," near the end of the album, appears to promise something simple, refreshing, maybe even Ramones-like. Alas, no dice: "We are fast cars on the inside," Bon Jovi proclaims over a cascade of surging power chords. "There's no turning back on the highway of life."
Wyclef Jean, 'From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion' ★★★During the second track of his latest album, Wyclef Jean relates the tale of an autograph-seeking fan mistaking him for Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am.
It's an interesting illustration of how far below the radar the former Fugees frontman has fallen since he, Pras Michel and Lauryn Hill topped the charts in the mid- to late '90s.
The Haitian born-humanitarian has stayed busy throughout the 2000s, producing and penning tunes for the likes of John Legend, Bono and Shakira (for whom he crafted 2007's "Hips Don't Lie"). But as Jean himself declares on "The Streets Pronounce Me Dead," hard-core hip-hop heads were chagrined about his career trajectory: "Last time (they) felt me was when I rhymed with Big Pun," Jean declares.
Partnering with mix-tape master DJ Drama, Jean seems determined to change that. Here, he introduces his Toussaint St. Jean alter-ego, which was suggested by T.I. and inspired by Haitian liberator Toussaint L'Ouverture. The fictional guise coupled with furor at his also-ran status has injected a hunger in Jean.
Childhood anecdotes about receiving his first pair of shoes and the crushing poverty of Haitians forced to eat dirt ("Warrior's Anthem") provide a gritty poignancy he had lacked since going pop. "Toussaint vs. Bishop" and "Letter From the Penn" triumph thanks to Jean's heart-on-sleeve sincerity.
The collection (on Carnival House/Megaforce/Sony Music) is not without its missteps: The M.I.A.-aping "Slumdog Millionaire" enlists Cyndi Lauper for hook duty and bafflingly lets her construct her own hood mythology.
But overall, "From the Hut, to the Projects" amounts to a successful resurrection.
-- Jeff Weiss, special to Tribune Newspapers