The repurposed "Livin' on a Prayer" bass line on "Work for the Working Man," from Bon Jovi's 11th studio album, "The Circle," is no casual rehash. In 1986, "Livin' on a Prayer" marked Bon Jovi as a band that grappled with meaning, or at least pretended to, in between hairspray sessions and breaking hearts.
Twenty-three years later, Bon Jovi has become that band in full, having long ago cleansed its system of vice and CFCs. But while the group's recent albums preached hope, "The Circle" is determinedly dark: The band's typical uplift is deeply buried here, in songs that are more blatantly angry than any in Bon Jovi's career.
This is a perfectly reasonable response to aging: Cynicism hardens with time. But really it's another step in the slow, sure transformation of Jon Bon Jovi into John Mellencamp, another artist who wears regional authenticity with pride and who started out making the sort of agitated, accessible rock music Bon Jovi is only just now getting around to.
Accordingly, the proletariat is all over "The Circle," indignant but dignified. "I'm here trying to make a living," Bon Jovi sings on "Work for the Working Man." "I ain't living just to die." "Live Before You Die" doesn't transmit urgency so much as pessimism about life's obstacles; there's an implied "if you can" after the title.
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"Take a look at these tired eyes/They're coming back to life," Bon Jovi pleads on "Happy Now," which is addressed to a naysayer: "Let me believe I'm building a dream/Don't try to drag me down."
But even while Bon Jovi is sympathizing with the common man, the scrape in his voice is never wrenching. And while the arrangements are mildly darker than on the group's previous albums, this group is still drawn magnetically to swelling choruses, its ambition of scale still grander than its ambition of import.
On "We Weren't Born to Follow" and "Thorn in My Side," the flamboyant guitarist Richie Sambora manages to show off a bit. But while invigorating, these feel like moments of indulgence - rare flashes of id in a band now moving with common purpose.
- Jon Caramanica, The New York Times
Wale, "Attention Deficit" (Allido/Interscope)
For two years of high visibility, the Washington, D.C., rapper Wale (pronounced wah-LAY) has been one of hip-hop's hardest workers and greatest hopes. His debut album, "Attention Deficit," arrives this week after Wale has established himself with mixtapes, touring, guest appearances (with Lily Allen and the Roots) and pre-album singles.
It's his purposeful move into hip-hop's pop mainstream, with brassy production, collaborators (Gucci Mane, Marsha Ambrosius) and a pop hook in every song. The album is confident and catchy, with some telling moments. It's also a measure of how limited Wale and his label think their hip-hop mainstream is.
As both aspiring hip-hop star and information consumer, Wale has always been acutely aware of mass media. On "The Mixtape About Nothing," released last year, he bounced ideas off "Seinfeld" bits to rap about race, his own sense of purpose and the state of the music business. He proclaimed regional pride, using Washington's local go-go beat and often mentioning PG (Prince George's County in Maryland) and DMV (District-Maryland-Virgina).
Wale still cites Washington on "Attention Deficit," but his concerns have gone Hollywood: to familiar hip-hop and R&B topics like fame, romance, club-hopping, brand-name-dropping and image making. Wale can admit to (former) insecurity in a song like "Shades," about being a dark-skinned young man ignored by lighter-skinned girls. He also musters compassion, in the waltzing "Diary," for a woman wounded by love and, in "90210," for a "regular girl" with "celebrity dreams" growing increasingly desperate in Beverly Hills, succumbing to bulimia, cocaine and promiscuity.
"Attention Deficit" would have been more impressive if it were Wale's first nationwide exposure. But the mixtapes, with their low-budget production but far-reaching rhymes, now testify to how much Wale decided to conform.
- Jon Parales, The New York Times