Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Album Review: Glass Houses

By 1980 Billy Joel's recording career had attained a respectable degree of commercial and some critical success (never popular with rock critics).  The release of Glass Houses still stands as one of his best LP's with its "New Wave" vibe.  A few tracks became longtime staples of FM radio like "You May be Right," "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," and "Don't Ask Me Why."  They are balanced against some excellent deep tracks from Joel's catalogue like "All For Leyna" and "Through the Long Night."  Over the years, Joel has stated that Glass Houses was his attempt to make a perfectly constructed album.  While Glass Houses is not perfect it has its own unique kind of fun.

The opening track "You May Be Right" is Billy's attempt to sound like a wounded 1950s James Dean/Brando type sets the nostalgic tone. There's a joyful juvenile spirit to it and it became a monster hit.  This is countered by the more seriously wounded narrator in "All For Leyna" that gets to the dark side of romantic infatuation.  While in "Sometimes a Fantasy" Joel goes into a new wave rumination on solitude. And then, "I Don't Want to be Alone Anymore," -- you get the point.

Despite all this apparent sadness the album has a certain good time vibe to it.  It matches Billy's knack for writing quality pop songs with lyrics that do not take themselves too seriously.  For example, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" was usually song I'd skip when it came on the radio, but in the context of this album it works.  If you take the lyrics seriously you will hate this song, if not you will have fun with it. In 1980 punk was morphing into New Wave, Disco was fading, Dylan was immersed in Christianity, MTV was a few years away, and the fragmentation of music was starting.  Glass Houses seems to mark that point in time with its pseudo-cool nostalgia.