Like Having a Beer-Buzzed Guy Yell in Your Ear

Mikael Wood savages the Piano Man’s latest CD box set in the Village Voice.

“Yet Joel’s performance here—onstage before an adoring crowd that includes one guy with a sign reading, “YOU ARE THE BEST”—has to be one of the most dispassionate things I’ve ever seen: Joel stares into space, as if wondering how to say “cola wars” in German; he moves his water cup to better read his lyric book. The last thing Dude’s doing is going to extremes—especially compared to the members of his band, whose batshit enthusiasm emphasizes Joel’s Zen-like calm. The only lyric in the song he lives up to: “Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m shot.”

Why on earth would anyone feature this clip in a box set intended to demonstrate his artistic zeal? Because that’s Joel, the most tone-deaf guy in pop. The Piano Man is unsatisfied with his song-and-dance status; in his eyes he’s Dylan or Springsteen, so he has to wrest meaning from even the slimmest shard of frivolity. Yet with a few exceptions that’s precisely what saps Joel’s music of its energy and life (as indeed it’s done to some of Dylan’s and Springsteen’s).

Absorbing My Lives is like having some beer-buzzed guy in a bar yell in your ear for four hours straight about his family tree. Which is energy in a sense, I suppose—an energy of in-between-ness. Joel’s stuck between mattering and Mattering. And he chooses incorrectly nearly every time. “