Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Billy Joel 3: Streetlife Serenade

It’s easy to ridicule Billy Joel—and we will, of course—but there’s no denying that the man knows how to craft music. His pop-based-on-classical method is certainly apparent on the virtual title track of his third album. “Streetlife Serenader” pits a grand Debussy-influenced treatment against a lyric about doo-wop singers, and the results are gripping. It resembles some of the more elaborate Elton John pieces of the same period, and we think Elton may have borrowed one of the transitional sections for “Little Jeannie”. It’s followed by “Los Angelenos”, built around a prominent electric piano over the same two chords, but never seeming to say anything. A different keyboard brings in “The Great Suburban Showdown”, with some wry lyrics suggesting a Randy Newman influence. Its mild country touches (mostly via the pedal steel) continues on “Root Beer Rag”, an instrumental showcase undercut by some snotty scatting. It’s built around a flourish of piano notes that unmistakably make it a Billy Joel tune, which can also be said about “Roberta”, an unlikely, underrated love song.
A fairly clever nose-thumb at the record industry, “The Entertainer” is still relevant today, even if the synthesizers aren’t. “The Last Of The Big Time Spenders” is a late-night stroll through early Tom Waits territory, but “Weekend Song” is crammed to the gills with just about every “workin’ man” cliché still exploited every Friday for people headed to happy hour. A pretty nocturne gets words for “Souvenir”, which would be the obvious end to the album if not for “The Mexican Connection”, a fairly ordinary instrumental.
As with the previous album, Streetlife Serenade is impeccably produced and performed, with many of the same Hollywood session guys. The cover notes even split the tracks between “One Side” and “Another Side”, although the labels don’t reflect that on the copy we have. Even if the world wasn’t noticing, he’d established a style for himself, musically and vocally. It remained to be seen whether we could expect instrumentals on every album.

Billy Joel Streetlife Serenade (1974)—3

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