Review Summary: When the Piano Man works to his strengths, he delivers like no other.
After dealing with the troubled release of Cold Spring Harbor
, Billy Joel sought to provide a more settled and representative taste for his listeners. Piano Man
would show the young, aspiring artist and his other, accompanying musicians in a different light than before. The sound became quicker and more generally commanding with equal variation on the subject matter. This sophomore release has since been regarded as among his best works and earned him a nickname taken directly from the album title. Yet the question isn't whether fame came with the album, but just how good it was, and if it withstands the test of time. Though Joel's second album might not be without a decent share of problems, the good news is that when it stands out, the music definitely impresses.
The most immediate area to address here are the well-acclaimed tracks, which also happen to be the longest songs. All three ("The Ballad of Billy the Kid," "Captain Jack" and the title track) work incredibly well and show just why this album has become such a hit. This is especially true in the title track, being emotionally driven and including an elegant, complimentary harmonica melody. Another reason these songs continue to hold up even today is thanks to the driven lyrics which are sung by Joel with much passion. Needless to say, these tracks don't have anything to worry about even further down the line.
But this is a full-length album with seven other songs that are up for evaluation, just like the aforementioned. And what must be stressed is that none of them, especially in their entirety, stand nearly as tall as the clear-cut classics. While we do get other, occasionally strong pieces, namely in "Somewhere Along the Line," "Stop In Nevada" and the intro to "You're My Home," even these hit a noticeably lower mark. Part of the reason they don't hit as well or hard is because they don't feel nearly as impassioned. Similarly, the shorter length seems to leave the songs feeling a bit more constrained and, in the case of parts such as "Ain't No Crime," unnatural.
A decent portion of the tracks also have a fairly upbeat and, for lack of a better term, quick-stiff rhythm. They might be better suited for playing at a party or even dancing to, but when critically analyzed they simply don't rise up incredibly high. They're far from bad and aren't nearly enough to ruin the album, but the overall flow becomes inconsistent and peculiar (not in a good way), as a result. If you want to get people hopping out of their seats, these shorter songs might do the trick. But when sitting down for a listening, they're too easy to skip.
has the shortcoming of not flowing as smoothly as its predecessor. Regardless, it stands as a solid effort with three classic tracks already added to Joel's then-short catalogue. The album shows much progress from and more command than Cold Spring Harbor
, but still leaves room for improvement. In the end, it's only occasionally magnificent, but has enough to prove that it's a sign for greater, successive work.