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Billy Joel spent much of the ’80s looking to court music lovers with albums that sounded either retro (An Innocent Man) or ultra-pop (The Bridge, which features a collaboration with Cyndi Lauper). For one glorious record, though, Joel broke from his “piano man” mold. He got angry. He got punk.
Well, punk for him, anyway. 1980’s Glass Houses stands without a doubt as the heaviest record in Joel’s catalog. Have you ever heard Billy Joel actually scream about a girl before? If not, you haven’t heard “All For Leyna,” this record’s fifth track and probably the most pissed-off tune he ever laid down. It’s a fascinating contradiction that an album meant to endear him to fans of cutting-edge acts like Elvis Costello and the Jam ended up giving him his first number one hit, courtesy of album-opener and classic rock radio staple “You May Be Right”.
It’s that very contradiction that self-proclaimed musical “cult” Hussalonia picked up on in 2006, when they/he (details of this entity are sketchy) decided to release a track-by-track tribute to the record. In keeping with their usual M.O., Hussalonia put out the album for free on their website with no fanfare. They don’t promote their music, they argue, because it takes time away from creating more music. That’s too bad, because Hussalonia’s Glass Houses has a lot to love, both for fans of Joel and lovers of pop music in general.
On their site, Hussalonia describes their Glass Houses as “lo-fi, raw, unhinged and full of musical in-jokes.” That’s a pretty accurate description; in their hands, Hussalonia turns the record into a garage rock party with only a couple detours for the more sensitive songs. Check out “You May Be Right,” which features percussive hand-claps as a driving force. Is Hussalonia reconnecting Joel with his beloved The Jam, perhaps? Such techniques certainly recall more bare-bones ’60s/’70s rock, which ends up making Joel’s songs sound fresh again.
Let’s talk about those in-jokes. One assumes you have to know Hussalonia to get them all, but I’ll take a stab at a few. How about the “Iron Man”-style riff that opens the aforementioned “All For Leyna?” It seems Hussalonia also figured “Leyna” was the heaviest song Joel put to disc, so why not associate it with some prototypical metal? Speaking of metal, there’s the amped-up “Close to the Borderline,” which sounds more like a hair track than Joel ever intended, complete with a blazing guitar solo. Fans of pop culture pundit Chuck Klosterman might think back to Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, when Klosterman’s roommate asserted that “Borderline” sounded like “Stryper unplugged.” Whether or not that’s what Hussalonia was going for, there’s certainly some Stryper vibes to be had.
Although not every track’s a hit – much like the actual Glass Houses, Hussalonia’s record sags a bit in the second half – the group packs little nuggets of interest into all the songs. In some respects it almost becomes a musical guessing game, wondering, “What influenced this choice?” The softer songs make you work a little harder at that game, such as the half-White Stripes-y “Don’t Ask Me Why.”
The best thing about Hussalonia’s Glass Houses, though, is that as much as it has fun with Joel’s record, it also celebrates it. There’s no mockery behind the in-jokes here, or if there is it doesn’t overpower the actual good music on display. Songs like “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” come off pretty straight and, if anything, remind us of Billy Joel’s keen ability to write pop songs…even when he didn’t really want to.
Hussalonia’s Glass Houses tracklist:
01. You May Be Right
02. Sometimes a Fantasy
03. Don’t Ask Me Why
04. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
05. All For Leyna
06. I Don’t Want to Be Alone Anymore
07. Sleeping with the Television On
08. C’etait Toi (You Were the One)
09. Close to the Borderline
10. Through the Long Night
Check out more from Hussalonia on their website.