Billy Joel
The Stranger


5.0
classic

Review

by Brendan Schroer STAFF
January 28th, 2014 | 40 replies | 2,418 views


Release Date: 1977 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Classic rock songwriting and lyricism at its finest.

Black-and-white imagery has something of a special vibe to it when done right. While the earliest days of film, television, and photography were monochromatic because of technological limitations, many artists have opted to use the black-and-white color scheme intentionally to create a certain atmosphere... and why shouldn't they? This approach has been able to convey many different things such as class, elegance, depression, eroticism, romanticism, minimalism, and perhaps most notably, nostalgia. Some examples are especially creative, such as 2011 film The Artist utilizing the concept of silent films being replaced by talkies, contributing to its lack of color; another one is the video for "Suit and Tie" by Justin Timberlake, which combines the black-and-white approach with aforementioned "class" as Timberlake sings with as much smoothness as the title suggests. And then you've got The Stranger by Billy Joel, which manages to use every conveyance mentioned above with its own cover of this variety.

The iconic picture of Billy Joel looking at the mask on the front cover, coupled with the lack of color, ends up revealing more about The Stranger than initially meets the eye. While it seems to represent loneliness, isolation, sadness and all that dark stuff, the abundance of light on the left side of the photo could also represent silver linings within the bleakness. While all of this is most likely based upon speculation, it makes a lot more sense when coupled with the music. True to the lyrics of the title track, which mentions the "faces of the stranger," this is an album of many faces and interpretations. Similar to Billy Joel's bipolar disorder, The Stranger switches through multiple moods and styles, and yet manages to retain its identity and quality throughout.

A wide variety of genres is displayed throughout the album, despite Billy Joel's typical soft piano rock stylings; some songs even end up delving into folk, jazz, and hard rock. In fact, opening track "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" is part of the latter genre and manages to be quite a surprising way to kick things off; what's even odder is that most of the other tracks aren't that loud or intense in comparison. Joel's primary strength is in his largely piano-driven work, and it still appears in spades here. Whether drenched in jazz phrasing with "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," displayed through elegant runs with "She's Always a Woman," or presented in a hard-hitting fashion with "Only the Good Die Young" or "Get it Right the First Time," the man's skill on the instrument is undeniable. It's even more remarkable that he can multitask with both the piano work and his highly expressive singing. On The Stranger in particular, Joel's knack for vocal storytelling is at its best, especially on the epic "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" in which he strings three stories together flawlessly (if the intro and outro count as one story, that is). The music and songwriting accompanying all of this is extremely cohesive and tastefully executed, expressive and dynamic without being too obvious or flashy. Every song fits where it's at in the track listing; the faster and more hard-rocking tunes are thankfully well-separated by the gorgeous ballads so there's a sense of variety throughout the experience.

The ballads are definitely where it's at on this album, showcasing everything that Billy Joel's excelled at in his career. While the title track is more of a hybrid of a ballad and a rocker, many songs are strictly in ballad territory. Something about the minimal accompaniment of many of these ballads seems more personal and endearing, particularly with "She's Always a Woman" and "Just the Way You Are." While the latter has a great saxophone performance from Phil Woods, the build-up is what makes it so great. It simply starts with some isolated keyboard chords, mixing minor and major chords for a deeply intriguing opening; when the drums and bass enter the picture, everything becomes more positive and frankly beautiful. But the former... oh God, the former. "She's Always a Woman" is on another level of quality altogether, mixing Joel's piano playing with elements of Nick Drake and other related artists for a perfectly-composed piano folk song. The piano and acoustic guitar runs meld extremely well together, and once again having minimal instrumentation makes the product so much more intimate, just like the subject matter about Billy Joel's seemingly unconditional love for his then-wife. Going back to the black-and-white vibe, the ballads bring out a sense of romanticism and class despite the usually dark and depressing nature of many of them. Contrary to Elton John's more glam-based approach, Joel was more into the humble side of piano rock, and it shows.

The Stranger is an album unlike any I've ever listened to. The way it mixes emotion, technical skill, multiple moods and atmospheres, and storytelling that's beyond most rock artists' abilities is something to behold. Literally no song is bad, and that's quite an accomplishment considering how inconsistent a good portion of Billy Joel's discography is. Regardless of how dark or light this album is, or how black or white it is, one thing is hard to argue with: it's the definition of "classic."



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user ratings (198)
Chart.
4.2
excellent
other reviews of this album
Kenneth E. Rathburn (5)
The Stranger is a staple. He is timeless....

themightyquinn23 (5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
FiveLeavesLeft
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2014



9650 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

150 reviews and still going. Cheers, everyone

NocteDominum
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2014



6932 Comments


Nice way to mark a milestone.

larrytheslug
January 28th 2014



1315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Amazing review. I used to know most of the songs on piano, but I'm a lil' rusty these days : p

emprorzurg
January 28th 2014



510 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This is bloody fantastic....the album's not too bad either

Muisc4Life26
January 28th 2014



2486 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Piano Man

ColeTeeple
January 28th 2014



11 Comments


It's easy to forget how good this album is

FiveLeavesLeft
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2014



9650 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

:]

FiveLeavesLeft
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2014



9650 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Also, thanks guys. Surprisingly, this was one of the easiest reviews that I've written

BigPleb
January 28th 2014



33987 Comments


Awesome rev Brendan! One of your best yet :]

Have a nice sleep?

Digging: Opeth - Pale Communion

FiveLeavesLeft
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2014



9650 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks man! Eh, I didn't sleep a whole lot, but that's just because I had an early as hell class. I'll probably take a nap later on though

sapient
January 28th 2014



1840 Comments


A lot of these songs I love, but surprisingly I've never listened to the full album (even though my mom has it lying somewhere around the house). Maybe today I'll change that

Digging: The Dillinger Escape Plan - Miss Machine

theacademy
January 28th 2014



28232 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

oh fuck yes

FiveLeavesLeft
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2014



9650 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

oh yes fuck

nice rating bro

thelastsignal
January 28th 2014



986 Comments


Nice review, man! Happy 150th; there are so many good albums out there that are older that I just haven't heard of.

Digging: Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2014



19437 Comments


grats on 150 bro, this review is excellent.

I remember digging piano man as well as this one, but it's been too long gonna have to jam some billy joel soon

Digging: Musk Ox - Woodfall

larrytheslug
January 28th 2014



1315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

"We strictly do 80s Joel music, sir!"

thelastsignal
January 28th 2014



986 Comments


^love that movie!

larrytheslug
January 28th 2014



1315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

XD, i laff too hard at that line cause they only play lame billy joel XD XD XD

FiveLeavesLeft
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2014



9650 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks guys! This album is so fucking perfect

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2014



49788 Comments


sit on your hand until it falls asleep and masturbate


Digging: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - You Will Eventually Be Forgotten



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