Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Billy Joel 12: The Bridge

And so we enter the Wayfarer years, wherein Billy Joel competed with Bruce Willis for who could have more photos taken of him in sunglasses. (To their credit, they didn’t go the stupid hat route, considering their current hairlines.) The Bridge was Billy’s first album since who cares when that didn’t have some kind of theme or style tying it together, unless that theme is “I’m sleeping with Christie Brinkley and you’re not.” Or “Check out the guest stars I’ve got all over this thing.” Hmm. Maybe there’s a theme after all.
At any rate, were the tunes any good? That depends. “Running On Ice” begins with a suitably illustrative piano part, followed by another syncopated section that plays off the song’s edginess, and likely kept it from being a hit single in those feel-good times. Instead, folks ate up “This Is The Time”, a fairly overt Valentine to his wife, sure to replace “Just The Way You Are” as that decade’s first wedding dance. That came after “A Matter Of Trust”, pushed along by the count-in and prominent video wherein the Piano Man actually plays a guitar! Except that according to the liner notes, he doesn’t, and this decade’s ears wish they sounded more like, you know, guitars. Still, a catchy tune. The first single from the album was actually “Modern Woman”, heard originally to promote the shrill Bette Midler vehicle Ruthless People, and sounding like a direct descendant of “You’re Only Human”. A fourth single was “Baby Grand”, a smoky duet with Ray Charles—both guys sing and play piano here—that works as a slightly faster “New York State Of Mind”.
One jazz tune wasn’t enough, so side two is blasted open by the big band horns of “Big Man On Mulberry Street”. It pales in comparison to “Baby Grand”, which wasn’t as obvious in the days when you had to flip the record or tape between sides. Still, it does clean the palette somewhat for “Temptation”, a moody tune stuck between love and guilt. “Code Of Silence” is possibly the album’s hidden gem, musically and even lyrically. Co-written with Cyndi Lauper at the height of her multicolored career, she’s used sparingly on vocals, thankfully, with a minimum of chirp. (Liberty DeVitto cleverly turns the beat around, if you notice.) With only one song left, it’s time to bring in the last guest, and for “Getting Closer” it’s Steve Winwood, then firmly back in the high life again. His Hammond B-3 works around a rhythm that wants to be a Traffic homage, but isn’t.
Despite the novelties of each track, there’s no real progression on The Bridge. It’s odd to say, but even when Billy Joel was exploring old styles he was doing something “new”. This is merely a collection of songs that don’t seem to have a lot to do with each other. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with just having an album of songs.

Billy Joel The Bridge (1986)—3

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