Monday, September 25, 2006

Review #5: My Lives

Billy Joel is another one of those rock artists that are considered great. He is one of the greatest piano rockers ever and his early work is simply amazing. The Stranger, his breakthrough album is unforgettable, and the followup, 52nd Street is just as great. When the 80's came, he responded with Glass Houses (1980) and The Nylon Curtain (1981), which are my personal favorites. After that, well....he met Christey Brinkley...and we know what happened there...An Innocent Man...O.K....The Bridge....eww....Storm Front...not the best...River of Dreams.....getting better...Then he stopped!
Now, with his pop career over, as unfortunate as that is, twelve years later, he released My Lives, a 4 CD/1 DVD set in 2005. Is this really box set that you need? Read on....

Billy Joel's hits collections are, in one word....stupid. Six of the nine songs on The Stranger are on Volumes I & II, even though only two of the songs were really hit singles. The only songs from his first four magnificent albums are 'Piano Man', 'Captain Jack', 'The Entertainer', 'Say Goodbye To Hollywood' and 'New York State Of Mind'. Volume III includes three embarrassing covers and two songs from An Innocent Man, even though all of that album's hits were on the last set! My Lives is sort of a hits collection, but it mostly comprises of unreleased material.
The first two discs are pretty good. It starts off with five pre-fame tracks. The first two are from 1965 and, while the songs are good, Columbia made no attempt at remastering it. Essentially, it sounds like a cassette tape! Next are two songs from The Hassles, and both are really sound good. After that is Amplifier Fire, an instrumental track from Attilla, his ill-fated drum/keyboard duo. After listening to that, you'll realize why it's ill-fated. We first hear real Billy Joel with Only A Man, a demo, then She's Always A Woman from Cold Spring Harbor comes on. The disc continues with seven straight demos, including a strange version of Piano Man, where he sings with an echo that's on a five second delay! The last five songs are album versions with the exception of a reggae version of Only The Good Die Young. On this disc, 52nd Street is only represented with two albums cuts, Glass Houses only gets the album version of It's Only Rock and Roll To Me! (By the way, poor Streetlife Serenader does not have a single cut in this entire set, except a live version of Los Angelenoes on Disc 4!)
The second disc has five demos, three B-Sides, a new live version of Captain Jack ('cause we need another one), Nobody Knows But Me (a children's song), an alternate Getting Closer (which isn't that much better), a 12" dance remix of Keeping the Faith (you gotta love useless remixes), four album tracks, and an o.k. cover of The Times They Are A-Changin'.
Just when you thought 'Well, there's only two more albums, that can't possibly warrant another full disc', there's not one more...but two and we haven't even touched the DVD yet!
Disc 3 is just silly covers he did for soundtracks and includes the lousy three Hits III covers I mentioned earlier. There's also a really crappy B-Side, You Picked A Real Bad Time (should be 'You Picked A Real Bad Tune') and an alternate of The River of Dreams ('cause everybody is on their knees to hear another version of it). The only thing interesting on the entire disc is Motorcycle Song, a demo of 'All About Soul'.
Disc 4 is just total crap, with 7 live versions of songs, including a cover of the immortal Don't Worry Baby, which was clearly not meant to be handled by Billy Joel. The last few tracks are from his classical work, which he should know no one will listen to. The DVD is just a straight concert film, where Billy does nothing drastic.
The packaging is all right, but not spectacular. The cover is a child portrait of himself, done by his daughter. The back is a really nice picture. The inside is littered with ticket stubs and then there's the book. The essay is good reading, but towards the end tries to come up with interesting excuses for Billy to stop doing rock/pop music.
In conclusion, if this set was just the first two discs, I'd give it a good rating. The last two discs are just stupid and could have easily fit on one disc, without the three Hits III covers and the classical pieces. The DVD is not a milestone performance and does not come from his early years, when his concerts were exciting. If you are a die-hard Billy fan, it's a nice set to have, since it has all the B-sides that Columbia never made available as bonus tracks and it does have some nifty alternates and demos. For the average fan of him, I would skip it. Just get his albums, you can enjoy most of those.


Next week, I'll be reviewing George Harrison's Living in the Material World which is comming out as a remastered re-issue this week. I'll see you then!

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