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Old 05-07-2015, 10:17 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Z' reviews Billy Joel

I once said on another forum that Phil Ramone was the genius behind Billy Joel's work. After some research, I think that the partnership produced two good albums ("The Stranger" & "52nd Street") and then it all went to ****. I don't understand it, he sounded like the piano version of Albert Hammond and Bruce Springsteen and then he copied whatever musical trend he could get his hands on; this is from sampling the albums itself and repeat listens of that overrated hit "We Didn't Start This Fire" which has been overplayed since the dawn of time.

So what happened, was this entirely Joel's doing; was it Ramone's doing or was it both of them?

Tune in and see; first up. 52nd Street.
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Old 05-07-2015, 10:28 AM   #2 (permalink)
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52nd Street

Remember, remember "52nd Street" for this may be the last album that Billy Joel will ever be praised for; that and the last album he plays a piano on.

Starting off with the rock anthem "Big Shot", the album shows promise despite falling to rock trends... It's bold, it's brass, it's lyrics may not be the best but musically it sounds good. Then it transfers to "Honesty" which take notice, are the end of the road for Billy Joel's piano playing skills; it's slow, methodical pace is a good musical backdrop for a night on the town and Joel uses his voice but the lyrics are only a slight step up from the previous song.

You'll notice a theme here. Good musical backdrops, good voice, bad lyrics. There's also a jazz theme throughout which makes it stand out from the crowd; Billy Joel was going for sort of a broadway theme here, one that would later be mastered by Barry Manilow in 1989 with "Showstoppers". It's a thing that takes music back to it's roots yet he doesn't do it deep enough. "Half a Mile Away" is enjoyable yet it doesn't have substance and even the ballads of the album lack that certain heart. I commend him for playing his own instruments but what's happening here?

The reason you should pick up the album is for the 4 songs compiled together into one super block. "My Life", "Rosalinda's Eyes", "Zanzibar" and "Siletto". These contain the best possible variation of amazing musical compositions, unexpected twists, bold sounds and unique instrumentation; even the lyrics are good here if not for the fact that he uses his voice well here. All four songs have addictive qualities that instantly draw you in and will not let you go. In fact if 52nd Street was an EP than it would be considered a classic rather than a number one album. This kind of stuff motivates you, influences you, makes you feel more than what you are and that is the power of music.

Besides those 4 songs, there's nothing much here for you. This is more of the beginning of the end for Joel's talent than anything resembling art or even a pop masterpiece; Joel should of never embraced Rock sensibilities, in fact he should of remained where he was. The piano player's answer to Bruce Springsteen/Albert Hammond.

3/5
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Old 05-07-2015, 12:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I'm sure Pet_Sounds will be along to comment (he's a huge Joel fan) but I must ask, what do you mean by the last time he played piano? Did he not play on The Stranger? What about "Goodnight Saigon"? Is that not him? 52nd Street is not my favourite Joel album (guess which is?) precisely because of the overt jazz influences on it but I love "Honesty", think it's one of his best ballads ever. I think Glass houses is a decent album too, and what about The Bridge? You telling me that's not a triumphant return to form for him?

I'm not, to be fair, the one to challenge your assertions as I know only a little of the man's music, but I doubt this will go unanswered, so expect fireworks!
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Old 05-07-2015, 01:31 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
I'm sure Pet_Sounds will be along to comment (he's a huge Joel fan) but I must ask, what do you mean by the last time he played piano? Did he not play on The Stranger? What about "Goodnight Saigon"? Is that not him?
He did, that album came out before 52nd Street. I meant this would be the last time he used a piano as a primary instrument before converting to guitar rock...

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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
I think Glass houses is a decent album too, and what about The Bridge? You telling me that's not a triumphant return to form for him?
Glass Houses is coming up next... (I already listened to it) I don't know about The Bridge since I haven't gotten to him yet. I have loads of music to listen to. I just uploaded tons of albums from 2010 in an attempt to catch up musically.

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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
I'm not, to be fair, the one to challenge your assertions as I know only a little of the man's music, but I doubt this will go unanswered, so expect fireworks!
Don't worry, I come prepared.
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Old 05-07-2015, 01:48 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Glass Houses

Say goodbye to the piano and hello to the guitar. That seems to be Billy Joel's message for his next album which shifts Billy Joel in a brand new direction; towards pop rock.

This is evident with "You May Be Right" which not sounding while all the rest, indicates that Billy Joel has drifted in the wrong direction. It's guitars have presence and the vocals are appropriate for rock but I'm just stratching my head in awe at how he can suddenly play the guitar.

Much of it sounds like it would be playable on the radio in the 80s and on classic hits stations right now. Phil Ramone has done a good job in making sure that Billy Joel and his band hit the right notes but something seems off... It's not the notes, they sound on key; it's not the voice, it sounds good. Maybe it seems a bit hollow.

Songs like "It's Still Rock and Roll" to me sound flat because it's not really rock and roll. Nobody listens to Billy Joel for rebellious attitude or to really experience rock; no they listen because they want something they can call a soundtrack which his previous albums did very well. By claiming himself to be rock & roll, he is offending artists such as Kiss, Def Leppard, Led Zepplin and future punk acts like NOFX and Bad Religion who would truly question authority as we know it.

The album contains more weaker songs than stronger songs. "C'Etait Toi (You Were the One)" is an acoustic guitar in the veins of many other pop artists like for lack of a better artist Tom Petty. Billy gets points for singing in french but loses it for making something that could of been a bit better. "I Don't Want to Be Alone" suffers from the whole "Billy is a rocker" mentality and Through the Long Night (which despite having Billy play some piano) feels like a weak way to end the album.

The bright spots you should be looking for in this album are "All For Leyna" & "Sleeping With the Television On"; both of them have distinctive sounds that stick in your memory, distinctive and clever lyrics and meaning... The two songs below are lightning in a bottle as said in the industry, something that can only be captured once due to sheer luck and timing... Case in point Billy was onto something when he made those two songs because without those two songs he wouldn't be mentioned on internet forums with people saying that "those two songs are the only two good songs he has".

Billy Joel is losing me at this point; he is not a rocker, he is not rebellious. He is a good musician and pianist and he should of sticked to that as his strength. This album goes in all the wrong directions going full fledged rock with only hints of piano in there. Not only that but it's too radio friendly, if I wanted to hear pop; I want to hear some creative liberties taken... especially from Phil Ramone who impressed me so much with his "Making Records" book. If you like it, more power to you but it is what it is.

2/5
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Old 05-07-2015, 02:04 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Thanks for the shout, TH.

Everything Billy did up to (and including) The Stranger was pretty much perfect. After that, he went downhill, as you said. However, I still find most of his work from that era to be enjoyable, especially The Nylon Curtain and An Innocent Man. Both are fantastic albums and on par with his early stuff, IMO.

I won't address the "Billy isn't rock" critique, since I've never considered him such. In fact, I enjoy him better when he's not trying to be edgy--he's a storyteller singer-songwriter at heart. However, Glass Houses is still a pretty darned good album--maybe you'd enjoy it more without expecting it to be rock?

Anyway, welcome aboard. I'm slowly working through Billy's discography in my journal, and hopefully this will drum up some discussion about one of my favourite artists.
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Old 05-07-2015, 06:52 PM   #7 (permalink)
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The only thing I would say is that it's a little arrogant to be saying "You don't want to be looking for..." or "All you can find on this album is..." Those sort of comments indicate that you're trying to think for the listener/reader, and that's not good. Maybe some people like "rock/rebel" Billy Joel. If they do, more power to them. I also prefer him at the piano, but even at that, albums like Storm front and The Bridge still have a lot to recommend them, like the superb "Baby Grand" on the latter, where he duets with the legendary late Ray Charles, to say nothing of "A matter of trust", and then there's "Leningrad", "And so it goes" and "State of grace" on the former, though "The Downeaster Alexa" is boredom incarnate.

You're right about The Stranger: I got the release dates mixed up. Wouldn't it have been a funny misprint if he'd had an "l" in there too?

I have to ask: would you consider writing a journal? This sort of thing is often better in a journal format. But whatever you want to do of course.

Oh, I forgot to mention "Until the night", one of my alltime favourite Joel songs. Ever.

If there is one song that is, for me, his "Lady in red", it's "Uptown girl". God how I hate that song! Billy Joel died for me on release of that single. AND it got to number one. GAAAHHHH!!!!
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Old 05-07-2015, 09:28 PM   #8 (permalink)
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^ That single was released a year before The Bridge and four years before Storm Front, so evidently he wasn't completely dead to you.

"We Didn't Start the Fire" is the one I can't stand. And of course, it was on the setlist when I saw him. He messed up the words and started cursing like a sailor.
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Old 05-08-2015, 01:53 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Slight improvement over the previous album in that Billy Joel is back to his former self... The three beginning tracks rank up to one of his best works, it features good memorable sounds like the piano usage in "Allentown". It features agression in "Laura" and experimentation in "Pressure" which is an ode to the weight and what it can do to people. Listening to these three tracks put me in a New York State of Mind, made me feel like I was there; Billy Joel shows sheer talent; for those three tracks...

After those three tracks, it goes into slower, more introspective material that reminds me of other artists more than Billy Joel. He does do well on these songs though, providing pop songs ready for radio consumption; another thing, he does pull in a more consistent product that's less rocker and more pop than anything else... There's a consistent theme in "The Nylon Curtain" and that is stress, turmoil and hope... Billy Joel shines when he plays the piano and songwrites so and his songwriting and newfound consistency manages to make the album sound better.

Themes and consistency in music is what I like in these things. It sucks when songs are seperated from their albums and put into greatest hits albums and it also sucks when albums are mentioned as (a collection of singles). Granted, most music back in the day were singles but nowadays we have album planning, we have track placement, we even have themes. Thank Michael Jackson for the introduction of that because without the pop master we wouldn't have themes in "The Nylon Curtian". Well Billy Joel to an extent but he hasn't mastered the music video nor making a product with such a wall to wall sound.

Good things, it's short and 4 tracks are good enough for your listening pleasure; plus it's got a theme which is nice and it's got consistency which is also nice. If there's one thing Billy Joel will be known for, it'll be for themes like this. The actual music is something that many fans will debate on but for the times, we had this album and it was the rock-pop version of Thriller; though less groundbreaking and spectacular.

3/5
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Old 05-08-2015, 06:07 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I don't want to be "that guy", but Michael Jackson? Come on: the great progressive rock acts of the 60s and 70s were making concept albums before Jacko got famous! Yes, Genesis, Rush, Camel ... the list goes on. To say nothing of the fact that The Beatles kicked it all off with Sgt Peppers, and then there's Zappa. Springsteen explored themes of disaffection, adventure and abandonment and broken dreams on Born to run, ELO had "A concerto for a rainy day" on Out of the blue... really, concept albums and themes were in effect long before MJ came on the scene. If we have anyone to thank for the idea of bringing the album to the fore as more than just a collection of singles and filler tracks it's the Fab Four.
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