Billy Joel

The Bridge

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Riding high on the blockbuster An Innocent Man and with a new jet-setting bride at his side, Billy Joel took full advantage of the high life, as is clear from The Bridge, an album that unwittingly celebrates the excesses of the Reagan years. While he hasn't quite settled into middle age, Joel is ready to take advantage of his wealth and status, recruiting a hero (Ray Charles) and a new wave kid (Cyndi Lauper) for duets, turning to Sting for inspiration ("Running on Ice"), fronting a big band ("Big Man on Mulberry Street"), writing a song for a movie ("Modern Woman"), and picking up the guitar ("A Matter of Trust"), just for the hell of it. You could say that it's eclectic, but it's scattershot, because it's just Joel showing off his musical skills. He's done this before, to great effect on Turnstiles, but this is all about hubris and, as such, it sounds exactly like its time. From its processed, distorted guitars to its hollow synthesizers, The Bridge sounds dated and it's his most uneven since Streetlife Serenade. Even on the hits, he sounds as if he's stretching -- "This Is the Time" is labored compared to "Just the Way You Are" (not to mention considerably more vulgar); "A Matter of Trust" never hits upon a solid riff like "Sometimes a Fantasy"; "Modern Woman" is catchy but fluffy; "Baby Grand" is weighed down by Joel's vocal affectations. In context of the album, they're fairly enjoyable, but they hint at the dry spell that was just around the corner. Nevertheless, Joel still has enough panache and is riding on so much exuberance that The Bridge remains an entertaining listen, especially if it's viewed as a Reagan-era artifact. It just doesn't compare to what came before.

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