Billy Joel
River Of Dreams



by Xenorazr CONTRIBUTOR (110 Reviews)
July 9th, 2011 | 9 replies

Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Joel allows his music to mature and progress, resulting in his best album since The Stranger.

By the time Storm Front had been released in 1989, Billy Joel had shown an impressive amount of ground covered for a pop/rock artist. That said, the aforementioned album didn't leave the best impression for what would follow for the Piano Man's twelfth studio effort. With four years bridging the gap between Storm Front and what would become River of Dreams, it was a slightly longer-than-usual wait for Joel's fans. And while Storm Front at least improved upon the missteps found on The Bridge, this wasn't nearly enough to make listeners expect much of its successor. But what we were eventually given would turn out to be Joel's best album in over 15 years.

Similar to how most of his works in the 80's were notable divergences from his first six studio releases, River of Dreams differs notably from what Joel explored in the past. As of its release, this was his longest album (around 49 minutes), which is complimented by the more serious subject matter and themes. Right from the hard, thumping notes of "No Man's Land," it's clear that the album is far less sugarcoated than its last two predecessors. The only-slightly catchier "Shades of Grey" follows a similar hard rock road. Thankfully, these points show that Joel allowed his music to reflect a sense of maturity and retrospect through aging. This is on display the most in Joel's lyrics, which are some of the best he's written. Gone are the songs which seemed to be meant for holding a groove, packed a modest runtime. Instead, what Joel sings about here takes a more contemplative vibe. Arguably the two best songs on the album, "All About Soul" and "Two Thousand Years," are both serious expressions that sound and feel like humble, though still very impassioned retrospects.

Given this general change of tone and mood, one would likely expect the songs to follow a less catchy path. And it's true, you probably won't get songs like "The Great Wall of China" or even the beautiful "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)" stuck in your head nearly as much as "Tell Her About It." The closest River of Dreams comes to being what Joel used to demonstrate so prominently is within the soulful title track; which is perhaps the album's only light-hearted moment. Otherwise, we get what could be described as what Joel's most serious songs ("Leningrad," "Goodbye Saigon," "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," etc.) would be like if carried out for a whole album. The music still has a fair share of instruments played to fit whatever is expressed, but don't expect signature piano-playing much beyond "Two Thousand Years," the title track's enthusiastic solo and the aforementioned ballad. Naturally, this has led to quite a divide of verdicts for the album. While it might not spark strongly with more casual audiences, avid listeners will likely find this a release that has a lot to appreciate. And given how much material Joel has provided us, it's both inevitable and appropriate that he end his pop/rock career on this note.

River of Dreams is truly a unique album. It feels like one that several long-time artists would think of doing, but never release. Where Joel's previous albums had a bit of an impending sense by detailing what one is facing, River of Dreams is a release that seems to express what one goes through during and after a midlife crisis. The fun-filled vibe is in extremely short supply, but we're treated to something that shows true evolution in what Joel had released throughout his career. For anyone who's stuck with the PIano and/or his works for a notable period of time, this is worth experiencing more than most of what he's provided since the late 70's.

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River of Dreams successfully blends a menagerie of styles into an emotionally resonant work....

Comments:Add a Comment 
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

It was really tough to do this album justice and (cohesively) describe why I feel the way I do towards it. Either way, it was one of my favorite albums when I first heard Joel, and it's more than withstood the test of time.

July 9th 2011


you gonna do fantasies & delusions?

Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yeah, I intend to.

July 9th 2011


God, I hate the title song with a fiery passion. Decent review, although it's hard for me to swallow the idea that this is at all a unique album..

July 9th 2011


this was the Billy Joel tape I remember from childhood. I would think that No Mans Land and Shades of Grey were pretty heavy as a young'in.

Contributing Reviewer
July 10th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

"God, I hate the title song with a fiery passion. Decent review, although it's hard for me to swallow the idea that this is at all a unique album.."

Well, like I said, it's mostly because I get the impression other bands/artists would do an album along the lines of this, but they don't tend to release. This album feels like one that does legitimately go through what the artist has explored (in and out of music). It finds a bridge between Joel's signature music and a change/growing of him as an individual. Some artists might tout their "final" works as something along those lines before they release it, but this is one of the few that I think actually accomplishes that (and well). Hence why I consider it unique.

July 10th 2011


Good review man. My old man has this on CD but I can't remember him listening to it much. I can only recall the title track.

May 9th 2017


Album Rating: 4.0

Lullabye is my favorite Billy Joel song :]

Digging: Aes Dana - Pollen

July 24th 2017


The t/t was my favorite song when I was a young'un.

My parents tell me I would occasionally even sing it in my sleep.

Digging: Swarms - Black Chapel Sun

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