Thursday, February 7, 2008

No. 357: Honky Château

Band: Elton John
Album: Honky Château
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Elton John's fifth album was recorded in Paris and featured absolutely no strings (the first of his albums to do so since his debut). It's a more rock and roll situation, with more honky tonk (hence the title) styled songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album's songwriting isn't as tempered as songs on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
Best song: "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be a Long, Long Time)" is a fantastic song. "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" is awesome.
Worst song: "Amy" isn't great, especially considering what we now know about Elton John's personal life.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

I'm not sure how to fully address this properly and I don't know if this is the right album to address it with. It's something I've tried to address before. It's the sincerity v. irony debate, one that I have in my head much more often than I probably should.

Torquil Campbell of Stars addressed it, vis a vis the current state of indie rock:

God bless Animal Collective, but they really have, in their own strange way, made indie rock a much more conservative place than it should be. If you can create intellectual distance from your work, then critics will feel clever for getting it and give you good marks; if you create music that fucked-up 13-year-old girls might enjoy, then critics will feel like you're trying too hard and not give you good marks.

Why does this debate matter? Well, for one, I forget that people actually read this blog, so when I fully mock an artist, I don't expect someone to take me to task on it. (Just to clarify again, I absolutely got several things wrong in that review.)

It's easy to love stuff that's largely unassailable. My favorite three bands (as shown in the sidebar) are Tortoise, Mogwai and Pink Floyd. Basically, two mostly instrumental bands (one of which openly admits that its song titles mean nothing) and a classic rock stalwart that mostly deals in obtuse themes and space-rock. I've not met many people who can talk shit on any of those bands without using the words "weird" (in the case of Floyd) or "boring" (in the case of Tortoise and Mogwai).

I'm writing about this later in the week, but I've gone through this before. Smashing Pumpkins fans tore me a new one via e-mail when I talked ill of their favorite band. This week, of course, I had a similar situation with a single reader. I should've remembered that situation, but assumed two stupid things:

  1. I assumed that no one was reading my site. Even looking at my site traffic stats, I get fewer than 70 visitors per day. Admittedly, that's higher than it should be, but it's still not huge. Still, the site is on a Google property, so it'll be high on searches.

  2. I never thought that Billy Joel had a fervent fan base.

The last point is probably condescending, but I say it not in a condescending way. I simply say it as though I really don't know a ton of Billy Joel fans. I hate Billy Joel -- I think that's clear -- and some of my statements the commentor took as fact (the "theater person" analogy is mostly that he makes melodramatic music, not the literal "hey, I think he was an actor in high school"). Nevertheless, I should've either skirted the album review (as I did on the Eagles piece) or done more research.

But the bigger issue is this: I often take down overly sincere music because sincerity just doesn't do it for me a lot of the time. I'm not as mean about it as I was earlier in the week probably because I know more fans of the music I don't like (the Cure, Springsteen, etc.). I have tons of friends who love the Boss, so I don't open fire on him the same way I do with, say, Billy Joel.

Nevertheless, I imagine part of it goes back to the type of music I enjoy. Mogwai is in full irony mode 23 hours a day. Floyd's music is more cerebral and overarching. Any insult people hurl at my favorite bands? I've heard them and thought the same thing in my head.

So, I guess I just forget that sincerity exists in a seat-of-the-pants situation. The music I enjoy is more cerebral. (How's that for pomposity?)


With all that said, I love "Honky Château." While it's not "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," it's got a raucous little record with a ton of cool songs. "Honky Cat" is patently silly and "Rocket Man" is classic Elton John: A little off-the-wall, a lot melodic and generally awesome.

Also, it's a surprising down-to-Earth album. Despite the honky tonk stuff, the balladry of "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" is a cool little song, written in the voice of a teenager. "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" is Bernie Taupin's look at New York's aura. "Hercules" is a nice little love song.

Overall, it's some of the great piano rock and roll.


Anonymous said...

'CEREBRAL- characterized by use of the intellect as opposed to instinct'. "I Hate Billy Joel"- characterized by use of the instinct as opposed to the intellect.

R.J. said...

Anonymous, please do me a favor of either signing your comments or stop commenting. I'm sorry you don't like my blog, but I've admitted that I didn't do enough research and was wrong on several statements in that piece. That you find it important to pound on me -- not a public figure like your sainted Billy Joel -- as though I insulted you personally is too much. Please, either be an adult and use your name (or any name) or go away.

Anonymous said...

I AM Billy Joel you idiot.

R.J. said...

It all makes sense now.

Anonymous said...

Good. Hate is a strong word,son. You don't know me well enough to hate me.

padraig said...

I understand the point you're trying to make, rj, but you don't have to apologize for hating billy joel's music. for making conclusions based upon shoddy research, perhaps. I understand you're trying to be objective, so i'll say it for you - billy joel is garbage, garbage, garbage. i guess you might like him if you're into shitty adult contemporary jams - that phil collins, eagles, james taylor type of awfulness. do your worst, anonymous commenter.

also I could use quite a few words other than "weird" to eviscerate post-Barrett Pink Floyd. How about "pompous", "yawn-inducing" and "vastly overrated"? :)

R.J. said...

I actually like Phil Collins.

I don't take back that I hate Billy Joel. I agree that his music is garbage. It stinks.

Anonymous said...

padraig:"garbage,garbage,garbage" r.j.: "I hate Billy Joel. His music is garbage. It stinks." Wow. You guys are waaaaaay too cerebral for me. And it looks like your lonely wank is turning into a circle-jerk. So,have fun boys, and clean up when you're done.

R.J. said...

For someone who hates what we're writing, you're around here an awful lot, no?

Anonymous said...

I never said I hated what you wrote. But don't worry about me hanging around anymore. I'm done with you. As for padraig, I never argue with an imbecile....they only drag you down to their level, and they've had enough practice to be expert at it.

R.J. said...

Well, we've got some choice stuff coming up next week if you're interested in sticking around. Madonna, New Order, Rage Against the Machine and the Strokes all have albums in the 361-370 range.