1980, Music

Glass Houses (1980) by Billy Joel

I read somewhere that this is supposed to be Joel’s “punk” album, not in that it sounds like punk that it is his response. I think that comes from a way too deep reading of the lyrics to “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, and if it is indeed his response to these trends he’s, um, at least 3 years too later, but I think there’s a grain of truth in the theory if only because this is a noticeably harder record than the past couple. Though, given that this is Billy Joel we’re talking about, “harder” is a relative word.

There’s more electric guitar on this record than on most Joel record’s heard. Or, even if there isn’t, it’s mixed higher and probably distorted more. It’s this one step in the direction of actual rock music that I guess inspired the rather hilarious “punk” comparison. Well, that and Joel’s singing, which feels a little more forceful and a little less pretty, for the most part. It’s clear he set out to make out a harder album.

I don’t know whether it was his intention to write less catchy songs or whether his normal knack for catchy melodies deserted him but it’s surprising how relatively uncatchy this material is compared to Joel’s other records I’ve heard or, especially is biggest hits. Even the big hit here, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, is not much of an ear worm. (It’s amazing to me that it was such a big hit. It’s got to be the least catchy of his #1 hits.) But thing is, I don’t necessarily care. It’s clear to me he’s worked hard on his aesthetic, and hard enough that I’m not sure I miss the extremely catchy melodies. Really, I don’t miss them: I have found many late ’70s Billy Joel songs catchy but hated everything else about them. (Re-reading my old reviews, I seem to regularly say I don’t find him as catchy as other people do, so take what I just send with a giant grain of salt.)

I mean, I still don’t like this at all, or his music. But at least I feel like I get it in a way that I didn’t get his previous few albums. Like this is rock and roll revivalism for the boomers, but it’s in a bit of a new wave veneer that let’s everyone pretend that they’re hip. (Um, I mean hep.) It’s the kind of record you can put on to pretend you get what the kids are listening to today. It clearly signals to those kids that you have no idea, but at least both you and Joel are trying a bit.

I don’t want to light this one on fire and I consider that a pretty big achievement for Billy Joel.


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