26 February 2015

Billy Joel - Storm Front

I fancied doing a blog by someone I'd not normally listen to for any length of time. After this, my next blogs are going to be in more familiar terrritory with a couple of Napalm Death blogs, Kid Rock (God help me...) and the new Paradise Lost album when it drops. Well, it's not like I'll be at the gym due to suffering from a viral infection. In fact, I've been told I'm barred until I get better...

Billy Joel has been going for bloody years! His first major hit was 'Piano Man' back in 1973, tis was after spending years in different groups, most notably The Echos and The Hassles. After that, he embarked on a solo career. This would prove successful in it's own right, although there is too much to go into right here, although that we all know he married supermodel Christine Brinkley. She was the high society girl in the video for Joel's song 'Uptown Girl' and also the "girl in the Ferarri" in the comedy movie 'National Lampoons Vacation'.

1989 saw the release of Storm Front (not to be confused with the White Nationalist website of the same name), which marked major changes in both his personal and professional life. He fired his long-time manager due to discrepancies in accouting as well as most of his band. The replacements were hired and the album was recorded. Joel mentioned he was looking for a new sound, although I wouldn't know how this album compares to his other work having never heard much of it. The album itself did rather well, reaching #1 in the US charts as well as receiving five Grammy nominations. Let's have a listen and see what all the fuss is about...

1) That's Not Her Style - Bluesy, bar-room boogie song with harmonica and horn section by the sounds of things. It's supposed to be about then-wife Christine Brinkley. It's not a bad song although it sounds like the theme from an 80's Bacardi advert.

2) We Didn't Start The Fire - Written after a 21 year old reckoned "nothing happened in the fifties", it's a rapid-fire delivery of a number of famous events and people which made headlines from when Joel was borm (1949) to show that, yup, stuff did indeed happen about then. Despite spending a couple of weeks at #1 in the USA, this song finds itself in a few of those "Worst Song..."-type lists, and it's easy to hear why. The vocal melodies are a bit flat and it's quite a repetitive song. The video was a bit creepy too, starting off in a 50's deco kitchen before changing throughout the years while various family units of that time filter through, all watched by Joel who is like God or something. Personally, I think it's a good song and have liked it since I first heard it at aged 11. The song has also been parodied a number of times by various outlets, most notably The Simpsons.

3) The Downeaster "Alexa" - A song about a fisherman who is feeling the pinch. The wolves are at the door and pickings are slim ("I know there's fish out there, but where God only knows"). It sings of a real life plight common among fisherman as they also tried to gentrify the bay as a yuppie hangout which didn't help. A slow, mardy tune with an accordion, it's an excellent song. Some great singing too,

4) I Go To Extremes - Sounding like the music from a sports movie montage, it was first thought of as a song about a manic depressive, but Joel reckons it's an apology to then-wife Brinkley about his "erratic personality". It's a good song but sounds like it's been done before. I guess the above analogy says it all.

5) Shameless - Trying to capture a Jimi Hendrix vibe (but without the great guitar playing), it's a nice lighters-in-the-air song which probably works live. On record, it's not so good.

6) Storm Front - Returning to a bar-room boogie, albeit a bit more low-key. It's not too bad, to be honest. Not much to write about in this song, other than it's good. May as well take the time to write that the production on this album is excellent, but then you'd expect it to be, given that by now, Joel is a seasoned pro at this stuff.

7) Leningrad - Another big hit off this album. A piano driven ballad about a Russian circus clown called Viktor who Joel met on a recent tour of Russia - then known as the USSR. It not only looks at Viktor's life but at Joel's too, to see how they are both same and yet different. Hey, it may seem like a load of bunkum but this was quite a big deal back then as it was the end of The Cold War, when the world really did seem like it would go up in a nuclear fireball. There was a lot of this stuff going on, all this "Hey, the Reds are actually nice people" schtick. Mind, it all seems to be kicking off again in Ukraine, let's hope that the politicians can all sort out their differences and get things back to normal. As for the song, I happen to like it, although I reckon there will be those who don't. As mentioned, it's an epic piano ballad.

8) State Of Grace - Oh Jesus, I think we've found the stinker of the album. It sounds very stock and like something we've heard many times before. Joel tries his best but it's not as good as what's gone on before. Sorry!

9) When In Rome - Another song with a distinctly 80's flavour, it manages to be quite upbeat and funky! 80's sitcom intro music. Whilst not as good as the majority of what came before, it's still quite good. I guess the song is about having a good time or something. It almost reminds me of 'Loco In Acapulco' in terms of style, vibe and even the key the song is in.

10) And So It Goes - The final track on the album and it's a piano ballad. Bit of an odd way to close an album but whatever floats your boat. Originally written in 1983 (according to wiki), it tells the story of a doomed relationship. Allegedly, with supermodel Elle McPherson who was about 18/19 while Joel was in his mid-30's. Hey, it's better than Woody Allen. But anyway, as you can imagine, it's arelationship that's probably not gonna run well due to the girl still being a teenager whilst the guy is in his mide 30's. The song was originally a demo yet it found its way onto this album eventually, where it resides as track 10. It's qute a decent song, very stripped-down in that it's just a piano and Joel's vocals. Like I said, it's an odd way to close the album but it works, I guess.

All in all, not a bad album. I can't say that I'll definately go out and listen to more of Joel's stuff, but at least I have more respect for him as a musician, singer and songwriter. The only downside of this album is that for a guy looking for a new sound, he tends to stray way too close to many of the conventions at the time, or maybe he'd not used those conventions before. Either way, it's a good album.

7/10 - This is good and well worth a check.

Top Track: The Downeaster "Alexa".

Chris J.

You can get this album on Amazon and listen to it on Spotify.

Spotify link
Amazon link

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