Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Billy Joel 7: Glass Houses

Now that he had graduated to the level of superstar, Billy Joel chafed at every non-complimentary review, many of which insisted that he didn’t “rock”. Naturally, the more he complained, the dumber he sounded, which didn’t help his case any. And as long as his albums and songs were keyboard-inspired and driven, he had a steep climb ahead of him.
So there was some suggestion that Glass Houses was a response to those detractors, with its provocative cover of the leather-clad artiste poised to toss a rock at what some assumed was his own expansive Long Island manse. On the back, broken glass frames his portrait in skinny tie. Inside, the handwritten lyrics and credits suggested a DIY ethic, carried over onto the band photo. (It was a nice try; a couple of the guys can’t help but look slick, but the lead guitarist has a Clem Burke vibe with his hair and loose tie, and Liberty DeVitto has removed his Buddy Holly specs but has his wristwatch around his ankle! What a crazy nut!)
The sound of breaking glass, already a punk staple, opens “You May Be Right”, a competent relationship song in his established vein. “Sometimes A Fantasy” begins with the mod effect of a touch-tone phone, a good setup for an early ode to phone sex, which is kinda edgy, even for 1980. However, the trilling acoustics and island sound of “Don’t Ask Me Why” returns us to the middle of the road, only to have the stuttering near-rockabilly of “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” restate his case. That’s four hit singles right there; the side ends with “All For Leyna”, a track we remember being a lot more edgy then than it sounds now, but it’s still pretty good.
The songs on the second side aren’t as well known because, again, they weren’t singles. “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” is a mild pastiche of Southside Johnny, presented as a conversation with an opportunistic woman, while “Sleeping With The Television On” presents something of a riposte to that situation, complete with cheesy organ solo. “C’Etait Toi (You Were The One)” also wasn’t about to confuse anyone into thinking Billy Joel personified street cred, but perhaps his insistence on splitting the verses between French and English inspired Sting to do the same again and again. “Close To The Borderline” is a lyric-heavy rant possibly influenced by Elvis Costello subject matter-wise, and something of a harbinger for a future hit single. Along the same lines, “Through The Long Night” is a mellow closer with tons of layered harmonies right out of McCartney’s Wings arsenal.
Glass Houses had everything his audience wanted; after all, they didn’t care if their boy rocked as long as he kept putting out albums and touring behind them. But of his catalog to date, this one’s songs lost their luster soonest.

Billy Joel Glass Houses (1980)—3

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