Originally Posted by Dragon Ma
I guess I'll have to out myself as a fan then, his seventies output is pretty outstanding.
The best take on Joel I've read was by someone who is not me (Klosterman, perhaps) who pointed out that as a singer/songwriter or cabaret singer, he's just fine (probably even better than "fine") but when you try to shoehorn him into the "rock" canon it's fucking preposterous.
I'd stand by that argument even though it isn't mine.
EDIT - More thoughts on Joel that aren't mine
but come pretty close to delineating my feeling on one Piano Man.
|oel is one of pop's special cases: The essence of his badness lies in his squandered excellence. He is a fluent pianist, a singer of deceptive versatility and range (listen to his vocal overdubs on the doo-wop homage "The Longest Time"), and one of the more gifted tunesmiths of his generation, right up there with Elvis Costello. The least of his album tracks are catchy little melody bombs; his big singles—"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," "My Life," "Uptown Girl"—have the same savant's knack for hooks and harmonies that you hear in Paul McCartney's best.
For some musicians, virtuosity—and upward of 78 million albums sold—might be accomplishment enough. But Joel's tragic flaw is a classic one: hubris. The guy desperately wants to be an artiste.
The truth is that Joel was born at the wrong time. Were he a decade older, he might have wound up in the Brill Building crafting perfect little pop songs and gone down in history with Burt Bacharach, Carole King, and company. But Joel came of age in the post-Beatles era, when songwriters grew self-conscious about rock's aesthetic and social significance, and felt compelled to make statements. Alas, Joel is a leaden lyricist with nothing to say; the result is songs like the 1989 hit "We Didn't Start the Fire" - Joel's self-seriousness has been painfully evident on his recent co-headlining tours with Elton John, who never lets artistic pretension stop him from donning a feather boa and throwing a party. Which Lite FM legend would you rather have over to dinner?
Elton John, in addition to being infinitely gayer and more fabulous than Joel, seems at peace with his status as a god of the adult contemporary charts, which Joel decidedly is not. He recorded Glass Houses (1980) in a fruitless attempt to answer his detractors and prove that he was a real rocker, undeserving of relegation to soft-rock radio, a format he's referred to as "soft-cock." The irony is that Joel was running away from his strength: He makes good cheese. A comparison with McCartney is revealing. Sir Paul is at his finest when he gets arty and ambitious. The Beatles' songwriting experiments and sonic questing brought out the best in him; when he writes sweet and sentimental, the results can be gruesome. (All together now: We're simp-ly hav-ing a won-der-ful Christmas time!) But Joel is actually quite good at writing saccharine love songs, big lush ballads, and lounge music.
The ur-Joel ballad, of course, is "Just the Way You Are," which is an expertly constructed song, the kind of thing that urbane Tin Pan Alley types were writing back in the 1950s. Joel has said that when he wrote the song, he envisioned Ray Charles singing it in Yankee Stadium, and, sure enough, "Just the Way You Are" has become a standard. And the song really is artful: If you can get past the production dreck of Play MediaJoel's original, you just might find yourself surrendering to its dreamy tiptoeing between minor sixth and seventh chords and to the spare elegance of its lyric. Joel croons those words—a plea not to put on airs—to a lover. But the old-fashioned balladeer who fancied himself a poet-genius-rebel-rocker would have done well to heed them himself: "Don't go trying some new fashion/ Don't change the color of your hair."
Basically, when Joel moves away from his strengths, he goes from very good to subpar. And he has shown a tendency to move away from his strengths FAR more often than he should.