Review Summary: Just like Lester Burnham, Billy's "lost something."
When Billy Joel released Glass Houses
in 1980, there was a share of individuals who saw it as his low--a slump. Though definitely inferior to its predecessors, it still retained the fun, catchy charisma which Joel's music frequently exhibits; generally with great results. And while audiences had already been given a head-scratching mix of music out of Joel and company in the early 80's, things were about to get even itchier. 1986 saw the release of what would become Joel's tenth studio album in The Bridge
, which brought possibly his most varied mix of sounds and influences. Unfortunately, the charms Joel managed to bring and keep from Cold Spring Harbor
through An Innocent Man
seemed to have run their course on The Bridge
This is a tough album to pinpoint the indefinite sound, especially given how settled each of its predecessors were (aside from Piano Man
). At first, we get a keyboard/synthesizer-eccentric opener in "Running on Ice," which is clearly influenced by The Police. Then we get points such as the duet with Ray Charles on "Baby Grand," a song that seems more meant for him than the Piano Man. The music is still very much pop/rock, but it sounds like Joel was going through the motions and just couldn't decide what direction he really wanted to take.
Unlike An Innocent Man
, various instruments have taken on a far
more dominant role here. This includes points of small, yet surprisingly stark guitar-playing. Although the lack of complimentary performances to Joel's singing was one of An Innocent Man
's flaws, here it feels overdone. While the aforementioned key/synth combination in "Running on Ice" may or may not be enjoyable, it's tough to feel happily infused during tracks such as "Modern Woman" and closer "Getting Closer." It might not sound like too serious of an issue at-first, but The Bridge
does something that would previously be considered unthinkable: it makes the keyboard/piano inclusions feel unnecessary. For too many points during the forty-minute runtime, it's easy to think that these formerly wondrous moments were tacked on. Few feel properly consistent with the rhythm created otherwise; and it's seldom we get truly accentuating sections played. It's painful to say, but Joel was better off leaving his key sets back home.
Another area that The Bridge
suffers is in Joel's vocals. Though he's shown limitations once in a blue moon, Billy has proven to be a one of the best, most versatile singers out there. Here, however, his voice is severely lacking in the passionate and blissfully melodic tones. There are a number of points that he falls back on giving us high notes, whether brief or carried out for a few seconds. Either way, these are tough to enjoy or even admire for attempting. If there's any album that makes Joel's two oft-cited and reliable strengths feel null and void, it's The Bridge
For all it's problems (structurally and execution-wise), The Bridge
isn't necessarily a bad album. Some points are still enjoyable, including single "This Is the Time." However, this is really the best that the album has to offer, which is inferior to any of the pinnacles on Joel's previous outings. The Bridge
simply lacks much of what made Joel so great and enjoyable in the past, which becomes its biggest problem. Experimenting isn't always a bad idea, but even Glass Houses
feels natural and masterful compared to most of what we're given here.