BILLY JOEL: GLASS HOUSES (1980)
1) You May Be Right; 2) Sometimes A Fantasy; 3) Don't Ask Me Why; 4) It's Still Rock And Roll To Me; 5) All For Leyna; 6) I Don't Want To Be Alone; 7) Sleeping With The Television On; 8) C'Etait Toi; 9) Close To The Borderline; 10) Through The Long Night.
Another step in the right direction. This album is usually tagged as Billy's «hard rock record» — not simply for harboring more distorted guitar-driven pop rockers than usual, but for a general toughening-up of the attitude. Oh look out there, he's really gonna crash that glass house on the album sleeve, isn't he? He did crash it, didn't he? We all heard the breaking glass at the beginning of ʽYou May Be Rightʼ, and we all saw the resulting hole on the back sleeve photo. What an angry young man! What a punk, eh?
In reality, there is at best one or two «socially relevant» tracks here, and that is very, very good news. The «toughness» helps as long as it keeps Billy away from one too many lounge jazz ballads, but Billy Joel as a public agitator, particularly in the age of punk and New Wave, would not be a good idea at all. What Glass Houses really is is a good old-fashioned pop rock record, reasonably well written, almost completely free of ambitions/pretentions (maybe even more so than 52nd Street), and containing exactly one corny tune with sickening potential — ʽYou Were The Oneʼ, an attempt to imitate the sentimental vibe of the French pop scene (even including some actual singing in French, with a fairly bad accent, as one can guess). But it's all right, too. A Billy Joel album without a single bad Billy Joel song would be too much of a mindshaker.
ʽYou May Be Rightʼ is really just an old-fashioned pub rocker, walking an assured line between cockiness and catchiness, putting back the rock'n'roll ecstasy in its guitar and saxophone solos, and, most fun of all, setting it to an electric folk-rock rhythm pattern that recalls the Beatles circa 1965-66. ʽSometimes A Fantasyʼ follows it up with echoey guitar and vocals that either pay tribute to the man's rockabilly idols, or show that he has been paying attention to New Wave, after all; on second thought, it does sound more like the Cars than Gene Vincent. But attention or no attention, "it's still rock'n'roll to me", the man says on the album's most anthemic track. Three minutes of brisk guitar trot that slightly recalls the Shadows — and proclaims that the more it changes, the more it rests the same. Cool sax solo, nice bounce, and only a slight touch of self-righteousness at that.
The album also contains what might possibly be Billy's finest ever stab at being Paul McCartney — the bouncy (sorry for that word again, but Glass Houses really keeps up this non-stop bounce for almost unreasonable periods of time!), yes, the bouncy acoustic pop song ʽDon't Ask Me Whyʼ, which could have easily fit on... on... well, I'm not exactly sure on what particular McCartney album it would fit best of all (Flaming Pie?), but it's got all the right McCartney moves. All it needs is a Paul-style falsetto to complete the picture, but Billy no like falsetto. Oh, and the Latin piano interlude in the middle is a little out of place, too. Still, excellent try.
Everything else is all right, I guess. There really isn't a lot one could write about songs like ʽAll For Leynaʼ (power-piano-pop with a mildly desperate edge), or ʽSleeping With The Television Onʼ (Elton strikes again on the verses, but the "all night long, all night long" chorus is a bit too bland and smooth even for Elton's mid-1970s standards), or the album closer ʽThrough The Long Nightʼ whose intent is to finally put you to sleep with the aid of suitably lullabyish vocal harmonies. Not a lot, but they are all decent, adequate compositions, well produced, as usual, by Phil Ramone and mostly concentrating on thinly disguised stories of relationships.
Thus, another thumbs up here: nothing truly stands out in particular (other than ʽC'Etait Toiʼ, in a bad way), but the album still forms an integral part of Billy's winning streak, particularly now that the man has learned the secret to true success — with his strong, but limited talents, the less important he sounds, the better it is. The best thing about Glass Houses is that he never really threw that stone, you know. He never even planned to. What, did you think Billy Joel capable of something as stupid as that? He's just doing it all for Leyna.
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