Review Summary: The Stranger is a staple. He is timeless.
Coming off the excellent Turnstiles
, Billy Joel had a lot to live up to for what would be its successor. Not much time would bridge the gap between these two albums (less than a year and a half). But as eager listeners in 1977 soon found out, less time per album does not mean inherent inferiority. In fact, this successor would prove to do a better job justifying not just the success that's followed Joel, (both before and after its release) but also the genre(s) he long-performed within. It wouldn't just be a commercial and critical hit that outshone its predecessors, but an indefinitely masterful collection of music. Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Stranger
Much like Turnstiles
before it, The Stranger
has a lot in-common with its predecessors. One of the many key strengths and reasons for Joel's success has been the narrative in his lyrics, which has frequently shone through even the less-successful tracks. And though his previous (and subsequent) works were certainly great indications of this, the tales we're told in The Stranger
are sung and played so much more beautifully than before. Joel and company truly took initiative when mixing pianos, saxophones, flutes, organs, tubas and more to make for irresistible combinations throughout. One reason all this stands out so much in The Stranger
, compared to its predecessors, is that each track is given dedicated treatment. Unlike Piano Man
, which was sparsely adorned by these points, every song from "Moving Out (Anthony's Song)" through "Everybody Has a Dream" is caressed by delicate production and wonderful performances. This is to say that each moment is more-than distinguishable from the next.
Though not a concept album, The Stranger
definitely feels like one. The songs have an incredibly fluent vibe between each other, with shifts in how slow or upbeat a song might be feeling both natural and appropriate. Each song has been proclaimed as having its own story to tell, but the themes are consistent and persistent from one to the next; creating a wonderful balance through the moods. This is further reinforced by how a perfect mix of pop, rock, blues and jazz are implemented; whether light or prominent.
Because of all its strengths being equally shared and making the album perfectly well-rounded, picking out The Stranger
's best points is rather challenging, to say the least. Both the title track and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" are immediate callouts since they show Joel singing and playing in his utmost prime. Opener "Moving Out (Anthony's Song)" and "Only the Good Die Young" shows the side to Joel that casual listeners are probably most familiar with. That is, they're on the quicker and more fun side (in an up-front way). Even with all that said, the highest recommendation is to hear the album in its entirety.
There's good reason that The Stranger
has been regarded by many as Billy Joel's magnum opus. The music is simply amazing and defining for both the respective artist and its genre. Like all true classics, however, no words can truly do justice to this album. Most of Joel's albums up to the point of The Stranger
's release do justice to what he's best known for, but if there's one that shows him at his very best, it's this.