Maybe it’s a variation on bad things happening in threes. Two months ago, Billy Joel had an operation to have kidney stones removed. At the same time he was slapping his former manager and ex-brother-in-law Frank Weber with a $90 million lawsuit for alleged financial improprieties. With the release of this unsatisfying record, the triad is complete.
Joel can’t pick his ex-relatives-in-law, but he did choose Foreigner’s Mick Jones over longtime collaborator Phil Ramone to produce his 14th album, and that might have been his first mistake. While the last few Joel-Ramone collaborations haven’t been exactly scintillating, Ramone would still seem better able than Jones to get the most meat off the bones of Joel’s material.
This album starts on the right foot with “That’s Not Her Style,” a pile-driving rocker about the exaggerated life-style of a famous woman. (Christie Brinkley come to mind?) Next is “We Didn’t Start the Fire” a sound bite of a message song, with Joel reeling off a pointless list of newsworthy events and people of the last 40 years—”Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex/ JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?” Joel is skilled enough not to squander all his assets. “Leningrad” is a rich glasnost toast to one of the cities the piano player visited in 1987 to record an album for distribution in the Soviet Union. He gets funky in a cut reminiscent of Springsteen’s “The E Street Shuffle,” “When in Rome.” But those are the highlights, folks; the other tracks seem lackluster, with little of the melodic finesse that graced Joel’s best music. (Columbia)