Several weeks ago, I had finally discovered the hidden gem that was Little Steven's debut album Men Without Women. It's a tough album to get your hands on, but I was fortunate enough to get in a two-pack from Amazon.com, where it was shipped with Steven's second album, Voice of America. Since I was pleasantly surprised by Men Without Women, I held back a while from Voice of America as to prevent myself from coming in and being disappointed. Unfortunately, this strategy didn't work. Voice of America is quite a departure from Men Without Women, a respectable experiment that didn't quite work.
The changes in musical style are evident right off the bat: the horns are completely gone, and what we have is an album dripping in 80s synthesizers. The songs, for the most part, aim for loftier political goals, whereas Men Without Women stuck mostly to personal relationships. Songs such as "Checkpoint Charlie" underscore the problem with on-the-nose political commentary in pop music, in that it dates it to a specific time and place (as opposed to "Devils & Dust", where the metaphors are just ambiguous enough to take on different meanings to listeners throughout the years).
That being said, there's enough strong rock songs to keep you coming back for more. The above video is for "Out of the Darkness", perhaps the biggest hit on the album (and with good reason). It goes back to Little Steven's roots with songs about relationships, but can also work as a political rallying cry. "Los Desaparecidos" is propelled by a catchy Bon Jovi-esque riff and a strong rebellious story. "Undefeated" closes the album on a positive note, and sounds like it could be used in an 80s movie montage.
Perhaps the strangest and most intriguing part of this album are Little Steven's experiments into a Reggae sound. The above song is "I Am A Patriot", another protest song that Jackson Browne has made part of his act. Little Steven busts out his Reggae voice again in "Solidarity", and the song "Among the Believers" starts with a funky baseline that strong percussion opening that is somewhat reminiscent of "Heaven's Wall". Your mileage may vary on how much you enjoy these songs, but I appreciated the change of pace from the synthesizers.
Ultimately, the album was a mixed bag. There were a couple of rockers here and there, but ultimately, the songs did not have enough variety, as the message of rebellion was hammered home in nearly every chorus. As mentioned several times above, but this album is entirely 80s through and through, only topped by Clarence Clemon's campy debut album in terms of 1980s cheese. That being said, it wasn't an overall unpleasant listening experience. If I gave half-stars, this would be a solid 2.5 out of 5. But, life doesn't give you half stars, so I reluctantly give it 3 out of 5 stars. Perhaps if you are a die-hard Little Steven fan, or if you in the mood for some 80s arena rock, it would be worth checking out. But, the casual Bruce fan can skip this one.