Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Billy Joel: The Nylon Curtain [Columbia, 1982]
"People my age, 25 to 40, who grew up as Cold War babies, we don't have anybody writing music for us. There's a lot of formula rock aimed at the 11-year-old market, and there's a lot of MOR for people over 50. But this is an album dealing with us, and our American experience--guilt, pressures, relationships, and the whole Vietnam syndrome." Imagine--in a world where formula rock, MOR, and most of the in between is guilty of association with Billy's (and my) demographic, he talked that shit. OK, you say, so he's no sociologist, and though sociological aptitude does tend to clarify "experience," I'll let it pass. What shocks me is the realization that this consummate rock professional is working on instinct. The basic belief of Cold War babies is that anything less than everything is a cheat, and their piano man agrees. Sure, "Allentown" digs into the rust belt. Right, "Goodnight Saigon" ain't Rambo. And in the relationship songs, sexual politics rads like me were fretting about a decade ago come home to haunt guys who thought they were a crock. But always this music feeds off a sense of deprivation that transcends specifics--it's built into the psyche of the singer and his audience. Does it help that the John Lennon impression (signifying seriousness) vies with the Paul McCartney impression (signifying entertainment value)? You bet. But he's no less deluded than his audience. B