William Joel - The Nylon Curtain
This is certainly the artistic peak for W.M. Joel, barring a very focused late period, which, you never know…he hasn’t done a record since 1993, though, so…
To date, then, this is his best record, and he does have a few solid contenders; if you simply forget that “A Room Of Our Own” is on here, you could call this a 4.5/5 record, especially in context.
I’ve mentioned on here previously that I’ve been thinking of this, EC’s ImperialBedroom, and Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones as thematically linked by the pall cast over them all by John Lennon’s murder. All three reference the event (although Elvis is the most elliptical (in “Kid About It”)…elliptical unless you remember that his producer on ImperialBedroom was Geoff Emerick, The Beatles’ engineer…And that George Martin came and helped with the orchestral bit on “…And In Every Home”, which is nearly as good as The Rutles). Paul Simon references it directly in “The Late Great Johnny Ace”, but with Mr Joel here, it is an attempt to reach the grandiose production scale of The Beatles’ best work which shows where his head was at.
Lots of the songs employ techniques which you would immediately pick out as Beatlesque: the George Martin strings and Lennony melody of “Scandinavian Skies”, the sound effects painting in “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon”, the entirety of the excellent “Laura”, the list goes on. None of the songs here seem to reference the event lyrically, but the production is so specifically Beatles-heavy, it’s clear what was on this New Yorker’s mind.
It is interesting to note that this was the first record made entirely on digital recording equipment, rather than onto big tape, although I believe I remember one of the instructors at Recording School (TM) saying that the producer, Phil Ramone, eventually introduced tape hiss noise into the final mixes because it sounded “too clean”. Perhaps that’s simply convenient analog tape nerd urban myth. The world may never care.
The Nylon Curtain is a very worthy record, with well-built songs, great tones, and played with some passion; it starts well and ends well, hits some highs and no real lows…A Room of Our What-did-you-say-now notwithstanding, this record has found its way into my Amorphous Top 32 Records Of All Time (TM).
Welcome to the list, William Joel. Welcome.