Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Billy Joel: Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 and 2 (1973-1985) [Columbia, 1985]
I give up--it would be as perverse to resist his razzle-dazzle as to pretend Led Zep doesn't knock your socks off. Songpoetry, rock and roll, the showtunes to come--such categories just get in his way. He's pure Tin Pan Alley, George M. Cohan if not Irving Berlin for a self-conscious, neoprimitive age, and in this high-quality context his soft early successes--"New York State of Mind," "She's Always a Woman" may the Lord forgive me, the image-making "Piano Man"--sound like the consumer durables there can be no doubt they'll be. It's unfortunate that the confessional codes of contemporary pop put his eternal insecurity around independent females up front, but his woman problems are no worse than Bob Dylan's--or for that matter John Lennon's or Bruce Springsteen's, although he's less pious, hence stupider, about them. He's pretentious, but never pious--going for the pop jugular is all he knows. The worst you can say about him is that half the time his aim isn't perfect. And the worst you can say about this album is that he baited it with two new misses. A-