Billy Joel's pop schmaltz occupies a stylistic no man's land where musical and lyric truisms borrowed from disparate sources are forced together. A talented keyboardist, Joel's piano style creditably imitates early Elton John, while Joel's melodic and vocal attacks owe something to Harry Chapin. Joel's lyrics also seem Chapin-influenced in their appeal to Middle American sentimentality. "Piano Man" and "Captain Jack," the centerpieces of Joel's last album, compelled attention for their despairing portraits of urban fringe life, despite their underlying shallowness. By contrast, Streetlife Serenade is desiccated of ideas. The opening cut, "Streetlife Serenader," fails to develop a melody or lyrical theme. "Los Angelenos" presents a hackneyed picture postcard of L.A. as sexual wasteland. "The Great Suburban Showdown" seems even more dated than its apparent inspiration, The Graduate. In "The Entertainer," a spinoff from Chapin's "WOLD," Joel screams homilies about the callousness of the music business. Joel's keyboard abilities notwithstanding, he has nothing to say as a writer at present. Two instrumental trifles, "Root Beer Rag" and "The Mexican Connection," provide nothing more than filler.
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