Review Summary: Joel proves he can have fun while providing a more-than sufficient successor to his insurmountable classic.
After the monumental success and acclaim of The Stranger
, listeners could only imagine what Billy Joel might treat them to for its follow up. Too often the successors to unanimously acclaimed masterpieces turn out being regarded as huge disappointments. Even if the album in-question is still solid, many will dismiss the record simply because it doesn't match what the band or artist accomplished before. And though it's true that 52nd Street
in no way rivals The Stranger
, this isn't to say that it avoids being one of Joel's best releases.
By this point, hit singles and Joel were already going hand-in-hand. And the album opens up with three very successful songs back-to-back, with "Big Shot" and "My Life" being arguably more immediate as standouts. That said, reassurance for how 52nd Street
stands in the shadow of its predecessor doesn't take long to show. Fun though it may be, "Big Shot" is no equivalent to "Moving Out (Anthony's Song)" and even "Zanzibar," a contender for the album's best track (alongside "Until the Night"), isn't nearly as terrific as "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." Rest assured, however, this is still the Billy Joel that we've come to know and love throughout the 70's. 52nd Street
is very similar to The Stranger
with strong, catchy vocals complimented wonderfully by Joel's varied and joyous piano-playing. It doesn't progress much even after Turnstiles
, since a number of various instruments had already made their way into what Joel had previously released. Instead, 52nd Street
plays the comfortable game; but it performs very well.
We do see changes present, however, with Joel's accent shift being what immediately distinguishes "Rosalinda's Eyes" from the rest of the album. And since Joel had already proven (several times) that he's got an amazing singing voice, it should come as little surprise that this is a very welcome alteration. If listeners who've yet to hear 52nd Street
are looking for anything different here, then they'll have to wait till about the halfway point. Though still very much a spiritual cousin to each of Joel's former albums, we see the most divergence after "Zanzibar." But these differences aren't so much innovations as much as they're resurgences. For instance, "Half a Mile Away" is eerily similar to the quicker tracks off Piano Man
; except Joel seems to have learned from his mistakes on that album. Rather than feeling stiff and forced, songs such as this hold up well even when sitting down for a serious listen. Part of this rests in the fact a bit more time is spent for each track, even if this is still a relatively short release. It's a small touch, but even a simple change can make all the difference. And the fact of the matter is that we get a smoother treat from both the sound and flow.
Going through 52nd Street
without drawing quick comparisons between its all-too superior predecessor is almost impossible. What likely comes as the least surprise is that it can't match the said album. But this doesn't mean it should be dismissed, because it turns out to be one of his most solid cumulative releases. Very little has changed from its predecessors and, in some ways, it's a curiously nostalgic release in-relation to them. 52nd Street
is ultimately about all one should have really asked of Joel after treating us to his magnum opus. It doesn't try to outdo what it can't accomplish, but by no stretch is it a negligible or lazy effort.