The Nylon Curtain
After the fun but lyrically light pop of Glass Houses, The Nylon Curtain is an ambitious album, addressing the themes of Billy Joel’s generation, such as Vietnam, unemployment and divorce, using Beatles-inspired music. The centrepiece ‘Goodnight Saigon’ addresses Vietnam, and while it has some forced and awkward rhymes (“they heard the sound of the motors/they counted the rotors/and waited for us to arrive”), it’s still effective. There’s also the psychedelic ‘Scandinavian Skies’, with an engrossing and creepy aura, and the social protest of ‘Allentown’ which earned Joel a key to the city for drawing attention to the closure of America’s industries.
‘Allentown’ is arguably Joel’s best ever song, with its magical piano riff; he even gets away with making train noises. There are plenty of solid album tracks; ‘She’s Right on Time’, ‘Laura’, about Joel’s difficult relationship with his mother, and ‘Surprises’ are all well constructed slices of pop with just enough edge to make them interesting. Like every Billy Joel album, there’s a clanger with the tuneless and out of step ‘A Room Of Our Own’.
Joel intended The Nylon Curtain to be his major statement; he does at least succeed in creating a near-great pop album.
Billy Joel in the 1980s:
Glass Houses (1980), 8/10
The Nylon Curtain (1982), 8.5/10
An Innocent Man (1983), 7/10. This is Joel’s pop/doo wop album. I like the Beethoven lift in ‘This Night’, and the title track.
The Bridge (1986), 5/10. The decline set in here, although I really like the big band showcase ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street’.
Storm Front (1989), 4.5/10. Spawned ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’.
River of Dreams (1993), 4.5/10. The title track, with its dance beats and gospel is actually pretty good, but there’s not much else apart from big memorable choruses on a few songs.