Review Summary: Joel's last effort is a classical throwback that sounds nice, but lacks personality.
When Joel concluded River of Dreams
by singing "these are the last words I have to say," it was something that most of his fans could have been advised to take literally. For after his critically-divided final pop/rock album, we were left waiting eight years before he'd give us new content. And even with that in-mind, this didn't mean he'd give us more of what we'd come to expect of his well-lived musical career. Instead, Joel decided to release Fantasies & Delusions: Music for Solo Piano
as what one might call the "start" of his new era. Of course, since it's been over a decade since this collection hit stores, this could also be described as the end of his studio releases altogether. And what we're left with is a long swan song of a collection, one that a few might enjoy, but most are probably advised to ignore.
The reason Fantasies & Delusions
is one that even Joel's most faithful followers aren't advised to hear isn't because the music is bad. Rather, it's due to the sharp divergence from everything
that he's done. As the album's subtitle alludes, the only instrument present is the piano. No vocals, no drums, no guitar; just the piano. One should also bear in-mind that this isn't a short trip. Fantasies & Delusions
has no problem taking time, clocking in past the 75-minute mark. In other words: Joel has released an album that's intended for very specific audiences; especially when compared to what he'd given us since Cold Spring Harbor
So, given that this is a long-winded collection of ten piano opuses, one still might be curious as to how it all holds up. Truth be told, it's not half bad. Granted, a key reason behind this is because Joel and performer Richard Joo are clearly paying homage and tribute to influences from music's classical days. The melodies and piano-playing we're given are nicely handled, lending a rather good level of progression for just one instrument. Some might compare it to elevator music, or think of it as little more than what an instructor would use for training piano students. However, credit at least has to be given for Joel and Joo giving us an acceptable and, all told, nicely played collection which is perfect for relaxing to.
Yet this also leads to what Fantasies & Delusions
fails to accomplish: stand out. Again, technically speaking the music is fine, but there's next to no distinguishing characteristics. Even with wonderful piano melodies and tunes being the music (literally), it's simply not enough. Most listeners will likely put the album down well before the halfway mark because of how long most of the individual tracks are. In addition, it's really a challenge to make over an hour of piano-only instrumental pieces feel differentiated from each other. Unfortunately, it's tough to say that Fantasies & Delusions
overcomes this task. The opuses are very similarly played which, although lending to a nice flow throughout, means it all goes together too
well. And for a release this long, that's not going to leave a positive impression on listeners.
Some might argue that River of Dreams
is Joel's last true studio album. And while it's definitely his pop/rock closing, we still have Fantasies & Delusions
as being among his collection. As said, this album is bound to leave many of his fans feeling sour; especially if they go in expecting more of the same. But if one can open their tastes for something notably different and very classically-oriented, then this isn't a bad release to appreciate for what else Joel has strived towards. Fantasies & Delusions
really does have a nice, beautiful sound to it in many places, but it has little to no personality to help it stand, even in an empty field.