Review Summary: Branching out through simplification is seldom a recommendable path; and it holds true with Glass Houses.
The 70's have often been looked upon with significant enthusiasm in regards to music. A long list of groups, including Pink Floyd, The Who, Rush and Led Zeppelin, just to name a few, are among the frequently cited pioneers of this decade. Also among this collection of note-worthy artists for the period was Billy Joel, with the release of several hit singles and widely acclaimed albums, such as The Stranger
and Piano Man
. Then there's the 80's; a time that became defined by a streak of inconsistent musical quality. Just one look and listen to the sugarcoated hair/glam movement is all that's needed to reaffirm this. Music appeared to have become more straightforward, streamlined, to the point, etc. And among the first indications of this is Joel's seventh studio album, released early 1980.
To say that Glass Houses
is different from anything Joel did beforehand would be like telling your friend that his first six albums had some piano-playing. This is actually one of the key changes that Joel's music saw which would hinder his music as a result: a significant lack of his piano talents on display. Even "All for Leyna," one of the few points that shows him retaining instrumental skill throughout, is far less elaborately played than say, "Streetlife Serenader." Almost all of the points which the keys do call out are as brief solos saved towards the later half of tracks. Likewise, strong lyrical points aren't on the frequent side (even if "Sleeping with the Television On" speaks to suckers such as myself). Though Joel's words still ring nicely thanks to the rhymes and his voice, those which are present here hardly match the standards he set before. As a result, Glass Houses
loses a lot of what gave its predecessors such a strong personality.
Another (and arguably the most noticeable) change which Joel made with his first 80's effort is a far more rock-oriented sound. Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it best when he said that it's "the closest Joel ever got a pure rock album." Going from tracks on The Stranger
and even 52nd Street
to "You May Be Right" is certainly awkward, and left many feeling unfavorable towards the shift. Drums and guitars seem to be the most prominent instruments, only overshadowed when Joel blesses the microphone. And though his singing isn't done with nearly as much passion, this still proves to be one of the Glass Houses
' best qualities.
For all of its inferiorities, Glass Houses
really isn't a horrible album. In fact, to even call it "bad" might be a stretch since, despite lacking almost any compelling material, it's more than aware of what it's bringing us. Some albums are best experienced without comparisons to their clearly superior siblings. Glass Houses
is among these. It might be tough for long-time listeners of Joel to accept this album, but there is an enjoyable collection of tracks to be found. If there's anything that this album can be argued as doing very well, it's having a fun time. Almost every song here can suffice for a party or friendly get-together. In other words, if you took Cold Spring Harbor
and gave it a more rock-like vibe, faintly hinted at during points of Piano Man
, you'd essentially have Glass Houses
There's a lot to hold against what's come to be one of Joel's less genre-defining albums. And while much of this review has likely exhibited a very critical overtone, this is only because Glass Houses
is faced with succeeding three excellent albums, released back-to-back. Taking Joel's first 80's outing strictly on its own will leave listeners with a short but sweet collection that gives no more than it has to. Being an incredibly basic, upbeat and completely unprogressive effort, nothing on the album really begs more than being in a good mood.