The Nylon Curtain (1982)

1. Allentown 2. Laura 3. Pressure 4. Goodnight Saigon 5. She's Right on Time 6. A Room of Our Own 7. Surprises 8. Scandinavian Skies 9. Where's the Orchestra?


After having several successful albums and chart topping singles, Joel pulls out all the stops here. This is a very careful album. Not content with making a straight forward release with strong music filled with hooks, he meticulously places everything he and producer Phil Ramone can find in their arsenal. The album is filled with synthesizers, sound effects, orchestra arrangements, and just about every musical sound and style imaginable running through the nine, very, very different songs. This could have been a jumbled mess, instead in turns out to be Joel's masterpiece.

Looking at the picture of Billy Joel on the back sleeve of this album, we don't really see a rock star. Instead we see Joel, fully bearded but with a shorter, conservative haircut, sitting at a table on the back porch of somewhereville, U.S.A. drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. In other words, this is Joel's "I've grown up" album. Gone are the songs of teen age affections and angst, and in their place are songs about divorce, unemployment, Vietnam, annoying relatives, survival in the cut-throat corporate world, and just plain dissatisfaction of life in general. In other words, the rebel is still in him, he's just now grown up and matured somewhat.

And darned if this album doesn't sound like he's trying to rip off The Bealtes' "Abbey Road". Not that that's a bad thing. After all, he does quite a convincing job of it. Yeah, he's definitely ripping off McCartney on most of the songs. But you can also hear a lot of John Lennon on Surprises and, by golly, he does a good imitation of George Harrison on Scandinavian Skies as well (we also hear Harrison like guitars throughout the whole album). Odd because those two Beatles were the more "Avant Garde" of the group. Odd because for the life of me, I still really haven't figured out what either of those songs are supposed to be about when I look at the lyrics. It doesn't really matter though, like everything else, they're great songs.

On the other hand, he doesn't try to disguise any of his other songs. Pressure the first single from the album is about, well, pressure. Specifically the pressure that Joel's generation is going through in the 1980's whether they're "for" the government or "against", it doesn't matter. Funny how the music emulates the feeling just as well as the lyrics. Funnier still that it was hard upon first hearing the tune, that this was evena Billy Joel. It really was quite diverse at the time.

Then, everyone knows Allentown about blue collar unemployment and Goodnight Saigon complete with "that helicopter sound", which was one of the first pop pieces that seriously took a hard look at the Vietnam mistake we got ourselves mired. There's really only two "rockers" on the album - Laura, which I'm convinced, is about his mother, and A Room of Our Own, which I'm convinced is about his soon to be ex-wife. I could be wrong, but it really doesn't matter.

As stated, the album is flawless and it's a bit sad that he never was quite this ambitious again. Even the last song, an orchestral piece ironically titled Where's the Orchestra? is memorable. The lyrics on the closing song seem to say "o.k., I've finally made it, I've arrived. So how come I'm not happy?". It is a bit depressing, but all of the buttons have been pushed correctly and it's a perfect ending to a perfect album. Sure, he'll always be known for The Stranger, but this one is tons better, even if it can be a tad depressing.

Tons better.

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