Billy Joel issued his first studio album in two years with the release of The Nylon Curtain in September of 1982. It would be a different type of album as it veered away from the enjoyable pop of The Stranger and 52nd Street toward a harder edge both musically and lyrically. While it would sell three million copies in North America it would be one of his least successful albums.
I have to give it to Billy Joel for not taking the safe road here but instead trying a little experimentation. It may not be his most enjoyable album but it remains one of his most creative and certainly most daring.
Three powerful songs form the core of this release. “Allentown” is a gritty rocker about blue collar unemployment. I grew up in an old mill town in New England and can relate to this song as all the textile mills left in the early sixties creating extreme hardship for the community. “Goodnight Saigon” is one of the more poignant and memorable songs to have been written about The Vietnam War. It deals not only with the horrors of war but also the sadness. “Pressure” may not be one of my favorite Billy Joel tunes but it certainly stands out in his body of work. It is frenetic, obsessive, and driven by a repetitive synthesizer sound. It literally creates an atmosphere of pressure just getting through the song. It may have been one of the oddest hit songs of the eighties but it was also memorable.
There would be a few songs that would travel in a different direction. “Laura” is just a pure pop song and may be the most listenable track. It is a piano driven song and the harmonies fit perfectly. “She’s Right On Time” is another piano based tune which intermingles with the percussion and finds him reaching back to his Piano Man days. “A Room Of Our Own” continues the exploration of his roots as it is driven by an almost New Orleans honky tonk sound. The six minute “Scandinavian Skies” travels in a different direct as it is a mixture of musical styles but the lyrical imagery is superb.
The Nylon Curtain may not be the place to start when exploring the music of Billy Joel but if you want a change of pace from his usual pop fare then this is the album for you.