Monday, November 11, 2013

Probably Nobody’s Favorite Billy Joel Album, The Bridge Is Still Not Bad!

The Good: Instrumental/musical diversity, Competent vocals, One or two songs truly come together.
The Bad: Little spark, Fairly short
The Basics: The Bridge is a strong departure from Joel’s hit album An Innocent Man, though it lacks the resonance of that album.

What do you do when you have one of the biggest albums of the early 1980s that remains one of the iconic representations of your works even through to today? Well, in the case of Billy Joel, whose seminal work might well be An Innocent Man (reviewed here!), you take a few years off from studio work and come back with The Bridge. The Bridge is known only for its singles “This Is The Time” and “A Matter If Trust,” The Bridge seems like Billy Joel went in a different direction and was actually not trying to top An Innocent Man (which, to be fair to him, makes a lot of sense – when you’ve peaked for a certain sound, go in a different direction!).

The Bridge features more in the way of instrumental accompaniment relative to An Innocent Man and while it might not hold up nearly as well as An Innocent Man, it is not a bad album, just one that seems like it is not trying to be ambitious or incredible. Outside the two radio hits, the lyrics are unremarkable and the melodies are unimpressive, though vocally Joel is solid on the entire work.

With only nine songs, clocking out at 40:06, The Bridge is a shorter album for Billy Joel. Even so, it displays his talents well. Joel wrote all of the songs (though “Code Of Silence” was written and composed with Cyndi Lauper), plays piano and provides the lead vocals on each track. Cyndi Lauper and Ray Charles both appear on The Bridge (Charles on “Baby Grand”), but Joel does most of the singing, as one might expect. His longtime producer, Phil Ramone, produced the album, so it is hard to argue that this is not Billy Joel’s musical vision.

Vocally, Billy Joel is predictably solid on The Bridge. He sings a little higher and holds notes longer on “This Is The Time,” but spends most of the album in the lower registers with songs like “Code Of Silence.” He is articulate and even when his lines have a little more crammed into them, Joel speeds up his vocals to make them fit and every word on the album is perfectly understandable. The Bridge allows Joel to say what he has to say.

More than on most of his albums, Billy Joel seems to want to make a statement with his music on The Bridge. The only song that sounds like anything on his prior albums is “Getting Closer.” The Bridge is largely an exploration of musical diversity. The album starts with the solidly rock “Running On Ice” before making a segue into the pop ballad “This Is The Time” and then returning to one of Joel’s few guitar-driven rock tracks, “A Matter Of Trust.” The album consistently shakes up the musical format and The Bridge works by making the overall work seem like an exploration of music, as opposed to feeling like the composer just didn’t know what he wanted to say musically.

Lyrically, Billy Joel shows his writing talents early on The Bridge and does not recover it for the rest of the album. The reason why “This Is The Time” and “A Matter Of Trust” resonate is because Joel had something to say that was pretty universal and well-articulated. In fact, the muted optimism of the lines “Some love is just a lie of the heart / The cold remains of what began with a passionate start / And they may not want it to end / But it will it's just a question of when / I've lived long enough to have learned / The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned / But that won't happen to us” (“A Matter Of Trust”) is easy for anyone who has had more than one romantic relationship to empathize with. Joel has a great mind for making psychology musical as he does on “A Matter Of Trust” and the longtime graduation theme “This Is The Time.”

Unfortunately, beyond the two songs, Billy Joel does not seem to have much to say on The Bridge, at least not much that is different. The lyrics are far from brilliant, like “What if she figures out you're not very smart / Or maybe she's the quiet type who's into heavy metal / Boy, you got to get it settled / Cause she's breaking your heart / Don't try to put on an act / You can't do that to a modern woman / And you're an old fashioned man / She understands the things you're doin' / She's a modern woman” (“Modern Woman”), which seems like a cheap, less articulate version of “Tell Her About It.” That stifling lack of poetry is not the norm on The Bridge, but none of the songs rise to true greatness after the two known ones.

Like many of his songs, Billy Joel tries to present musical storysongs, even on The Bridge. The big one on The Bridge is “Big Man On Mulberry Street.” On that song, Joel narrates “I cruise from Houston to Canal Street / A misfit and a rebel / I see the winds talking to themselves / And I can understand / Why is it everytime I go out / I always seem to get in trouble / I guess I made an impression on somebody / North of hester and south of grand” (“Big Man On Mulberry Street”) and, like “Modern Woman,” he seems to have less to say than he does with his past musical storysongs like “Piano Man” or even “Uptown Girl.”

The Bridge is not terrible, but it is not an album that showcases well the genius of Billy Joel. Outside “This Is The Time” and “A Matter Of Trust,” the album is mediocre, though creative, putting it in the lower ranges of an average work.

For other Billy Joel reviews, please check out:
Piano Man
52nd Street
Glass Houses
The Nylon Curtain
Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II
River Of Dreams
12 Gardens Live


Check out how this album stacks up against all of the others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where works are listed from best to worst!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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