River of Dreams (1993)

1. No Man's Land 2. The Great Wall of China 3. Blonde Over Blue 4. A Minor Variation 5. Shades of Gray 6. All About Soul 7. Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) 8. The River of Dreams 9. 2000 Years 10.Famous Last Words


Who put the Piano Man in such a dark mood? You would think with everything that this man had accomplished in the past 15 years or so, that he would be riding high on cloud nine. Not so. Like King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, this disc is a sad reminder that you can have incredible talent, fame, riches and beautiful woman for a wife and still be miserable. Just reading the lyric sheet is depressing. An example - "Some days I have to give right in to the blues/ Despite how I try to keep fightin'/ It's a sure shot I'm going to lose...." or "These days not a damn soul prays/ 'cause there is no faith / and there's nothin' to believe in". Sheesh.

Well, you do have to give him credit for writing from the heart. It could have been worse if he faked it and was singing about sunshine and roses. It's just that you really feel bad for the guy. Even sadder when the two somewhat positive songs, which were about his wife (Blonde Over Blue and All About Soul) seem to lose a lot of their appeal when several months into the tour supporting this album, they announced that they were splitting up.

Since bringing in a new producer on his last album had great results by shaking things up, he tries that approach again bringing in new musicians and producer Danny Kortchmar. Unfortunately the production never really catches fire. Kortchmar, mainly known for his work with Don Henley, manages to make a somewhat "Don Henley" sounding album, but it doesn't resonate as one would wish. There are several bright spots - the album opener No Man's Land is a strong piece about the commentary of how our society and culture has managed to botch up what was once so good, and The River of Dreams is the most infectious thing here - leaving Joel with at least some hope for the future, and leaving his fans with just one more classic song.

Listening to the album, it's not really surprising in retrospect that this would be his last pop album ever. He was just running out of ideas. It's hard not to hear that he just might be unintentionally ripping off other artists. It's hard to listen to Blonde Over Blue without hearing The Cars' "Touch and Go", or The Great Wall of China without hearing Foreigner's "Reaction to Action". Even the closing song, Famous Last Words seems to be about a writer who just doesn't have anything left to say.

It probably was for the best that he didn't attempt to write anymore since he honestly felt his heart wasn't in it. Too many artists seem to put out mediocre material after they've peaked only to have it looked back on as a major embarrassment. Also, although he was "retired" he never stopped touring and the arenas and stadiums kept selling out for many years after he quit the recording studio. People still enjoy the great music this man put out in relatively short time period of musical history.

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