Glass Houses

Glass Houses

Billy Joel is a restless person who loves a broad range of music, and enjoys exploring different styles—possibly because “Piano Man” and “Just the Way You Are” got him pigeonholed as a balladeer. Glass Houses is one of his most unpredictable musical twists, and it takes a turn towards New Wave, especially the efficient rock songs of The Cars. Compare “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (Joel’s first No. 1 hit) and “You May Be Right” with “Just What I Needed” and “Let’s Go,” and you might notice similar rhythm-guitar intros. In the deliberately provocative “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” Joel takes a look at the “new sounds” in vogue (punk and New Wave) and concludes, with a Boomer-ish shrug, that it’s nothing new. Most of it, he told interviewers, reminded him of the garage rock he grew up loving, like The Seeds, or ? and the Mysterians. It’s a bit condescending, but by incorporating New Wave into the album, he expressed an appreciation alongside the skepticism. There are also songs that would fit easily on his earlier records. The pensive ballad “Through the Long Night” describes the looming end of his first marriage. The cosmopolitan “Don’t Ask Me Why” features a rare solo from Joel, inspired by his affection for the Spanish pianist José Iturbi, who starred in 1940s movies like Anchors Aweigh. Then there’s “C’etait Toi (You Were the One),” which was influenced by French chanson and was used to great effect in the NBC cult comedy Freaks and Geeks, yet remains one of Joel’s least favorite songs. (“The song really sucks,” he once said.) Overall, Glass Houses has the exuberance of Elvis Costello’s or Joe Jackson’s early work. Joel had been headlining arenas since The Stranger, and he wanted guitar-based songs that would rouse an arena of 18,000 people. It shows.

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