Review Summary: Oddly nostalgic; though not for the reasons you might suspect.
Given the less-than ideal path taken on Glass Houses
as the PIano Man's entry into the 80's, it's easy to understand why many were skeptical about what would come next. Though several bands/artists tend to get stuck in a rut upon releasing an unfavorable album, Billy Joel managed to bounce back to his more familiar sound with ease on The Nylon Curtain
. And while it might be a more proper successor to 52nd Street
than his quick rock & roll record, this is still rather different from what Joel and company gave us in the 70's. The key note to make about this difference is that The Nylon Curtain
distinguishes itself in a far more aesthetically pleasing manner.
From the get-go on "Allentown," we have assurance that Joel has done away with (most of) the straightforward rock vibe that dominated Glass Houses
. Similar to how Turnstiles
had a longer average track length compared to its predecessors, one-third of The Nylon Curtain
has songs over five minutes long. Piano-playing has triumphantly returned by assuming a more dominant role than before. While nothing here rivals The Stranger
, so to speak, it's very comforting to hear one of Joel's main draws back on proper display. As one might expect, this means pacing has been settled back down. Almost nothing here feels that quick; not even the arguably upbeat hit single "Pressure."
Like all of Joel's albums up to this point, however, an individual's name is handed as a song's title. And, curiously, "Laura" happens to be possibly the only weak song off the album. This isn't nearly so much because Joel couldn't resist dropping the f-bomb, but more because his voice feels forced in many points. Every vocalist has their shortcomings, and Joel unfortunately puts this on display with one of the few times he appears to attempt yelling in his music. Thankfully, the rest of the album avoids expressing what doesn't need revisiting.
Truth be told, The Nylon Curtain
is a very consistent album quality-wise, even by Joel's standards. While we get a bit of a slump in "Laura" and have a somewhat overlooked piece in the superb "Goodbye Saigon," everything else holds up similarly (and well) together. The prominence of serious issues helps play into this, with more personal and gripping themes such as those in "Allentown," "Where's the Orchestra?" and the aforementioned stellar track about Vietnam. Even the ironic "A Room of Our Own" has a dry-to-humorous undertone/overtone mix that could best be compared to the relationship one would get from the quotes of Hannibal Lector, or the Joker (if not as direct or serious).
Yet The Nylon Curtain
has an eerily nostalgic vibe to it; but not from sounding like what Joel did in the 70's. Rather, the album has some throwbacks and stylistic cues not unlike what was found on music exhibited through the catalogue of The Beatles and John Lennon. While these might not be immediately striking for the less familiar listener, they're definitely present. And though it's not like Joel's earlier works didn't exhibit the presence of these influences, they ring far more in The Nylon Curtain
. "Surprises" and "Scandinavian Skies" are probably the first which come to mind for these similarities and homages. While these are still appropriate for the time of the album's release, it can become easy to think that the album came out as early as the 50's for its vintage touches. Either way, it's a nice and very welcoming shift that should entice yet-to-experience listeners.
Any who were left with a sour taste after Glass Houses
and haven't given The Nylon Curtain
a chance needn't worry about further indigestion. Most of what came to embody Joel's release from early 1980 has been abandoned in exchange for cues from older artists who've clearly impacted his music from the start. Except we get to hear more of this shine through on The Nylon Curtain
, which helps it stand out from most of Joel's other works stylistically. And in this case, that turns out to be a great thing.