Billy Joel John Milward - Essay

John Milward

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Nylon Curtain" is Billy Joel's "Magical Mystery Tour." (p. 85)

Allentown is the album at its high point, with Joel's chunky piano rhythm complemented by assembly-line sound effects that conjure a cartoon factory where a whistle sticks fingers in its own mouth to call the troops to work. The scene, however, isn't comic, for this is a plant that is wilting, and a town that's dying while its young people ask, "What happened?" There's empathy in this tune—Joel might not have lost a factory gig, but he knows about chances washed away in America. The same can't be said for Goodnight Saigon. Though delicately beautiful,… it's an ambitious but misguided attempt to capture an alien experience. Collecting images from Apocalypse Now does not an authentic testimonial make.

Pressure puts these outward struggles in the realm of the personal, and the tough syncopation snaps all the right synapses. Joel's love songs are a mixed bag, as he spits out tired venom on Laura ([a] Lennon ringer) and welcomes her home with a familiar but rocking beat on She's Right on Time. The wooing winner, though, is the jaunty A Room of Our Own, which lists the reconcilable differences … of a couple of hapless homemakers.

Though the album closes with the schlocky Where's the Orchestra?,… the festivities really end with Scandinavian Skies, a psychedelic European travelog that substitutes a plane for a magic bus. Swaddled in echoes, Joel's voice drifts alongside the lyric, and it's precisely this meeting of studio craft and sturdy songs that gives "The Nylon Curtain" its winning pop texture. (p. 86)

John Milward, in his review of "The Nylon Curtain," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure Magazine, Inc.; all rights reserved; excerpted by permission), Vol. 32, No. 12, December, 1982, pp. 85-6.