Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Billy Joel 14: Storm Front

Another lengthy break was out of character, and when Billy had another album ready, it was supposed to signify a change of direction. Longtime producer Phil Ramone was replaced by Foreigner’s Mick Jones, and most of the band was different, too. Beyond that, and for all its intention to rock, Storm Front was by-the-numbers adult pop, occasionally veering to social commentary, which was never one of his strong suits.
“That’s Not Her Style” picks up right where The Bridge left off, only with more harmonica. Most people likely skipped ahead what’s up next. Possibly his only novelty song, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” crams forty years of headlines into a distant cousin of “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”, complete with sound effects (thankfully avoided for “JFK! Blown away! WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO SAY!”). He must have decided the song was long enough as it is, since he races through 25 years in the last verse. Also, the chorus has nothing to do with the rest of the song. “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” is an “Allentown” for the fishing industry, with a title named after his daughter and a seafaring feel beating Sting by a couple of years. A true guilty pleasure is the undeniably catchy “I Go To Extremes”, with Liberty DeVitto pounding away and a few decent piano breaks. “Shameless” would become a smash hit (and apt description) for Garth Brooks in a few years, but here it has a near-Hendrix vibe, both in the delivery and the guitar parts. (Don’t ask us to elaborate further on that; it took us this long to get here.)
The title track rehashes “That’s Not Her Style”, in a slower tempo with an even more generic production, which provides a welcome opening for “Leningrad”, the first piano ballad here, and a sound that hearkens back to his earliest albums. Some of the lyrics are a little clumsy for a guy who’d actually been to the city in question, and only 20 minutes since that other history lesson. One of the better-constructed songs is “State Of Grace”, and one of the few not released as a single of any kind. Then “When In Rome” crashes in like the theme song for a sitcom, sung in his faux-Ray Charles voice. (Really, picture the opening credits for Family Matters or Perfect Strangers flying by, pastel colors and high top fades aplenty. Why hasn’t some TV producer grabbed this yet?) After a much-too-long ending, “And So It Goes” is a somber, romantic benediction. Despite its passing resemblance to the hymn “Jerusalem” (“And did those feet in ancient time”) it became something of a standard.
There’s nothing wrong with Storm Front, and it went on to sell four million copies in the US alone. Many of those would end up in used bins, but it was still a pretty good feat now that he was competing with Phil Collins for those yuppie dollars.

Billy Joel Storm Front (1989)—3

1 comment:

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