Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Billy Joel 15: River Of Dreams

Now it had been four years between albums, so River Of Dreams was more “long-awaited” than ever. Just like the last time, Billy got a guitarist to produce; this time it was former L.A. session rat Danny Kortchmar, but he’s not necessarily the guy heard wailing all over the place (sometimes it’s Leslie West). The social commentary continues, with more emphasis on what passed for rock in 1993.
He also seems to be going for a different vocal approach, with a lot more crooning in a lower register. This is apparent on “No Man’s Land”, decrying suburban sprawl and decay. We never thought we’d say this, but something about the falsetto (and the finger cymbals) on “The Great Wall Of China” resembles that of Prince in his psychedelic phase. The lyrics are clever without meaning anything, and the Beatlesque touches are interesting. “Blonde Over Blue” has that croon again, a back-handed love song that’s one of the least “Billy Joel-sounding” songs in his catalog. Despite its pseudo-classical title, “A Minor Variation” is a slow funk number in the vein of recent Steve Winwood, and seems even longer than it is. “Shades Of Grey” is pretty loud—incidentally, the only track with Liberty DeVitto on drums—to end a disjointed side.
What was still called side two is an improvement. “All About Soul” is very well-constructed pop, just this side of melodramatic with more hooks than you can count. Even the backing vocal from Color Me Badd, the antithesis of soul, can’t sink this one. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” fits the “classic Billy Joel” mold, a classical piano piece with a simple, loving vocal, in this case sung to a child. And then there’s the title track, as simple as they come, but again, so frickin’ catchy that it won’t let go. “Two Thousand Years” likely started as another classical theme, but the “hole in the bucket dear Liza” theme after each verse is a distraction. Finally, “Famous Last Words” closes the proceedings on a high note, the Hammond organ prominent over the fade.
And with that prophetic title matching a song that’s anything but grandiose, thus ends the last album of new Billy Joel songs for 21 years and counting. Whether or not that was the intention, River Of Dreams was a better place to stop than Storm Front—and who knows? Maybe we’ll hear from him again someday.

Billy Joel River Of Dreams (1993)—3

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