BILLY JOEL"River of Dreams" Columbia* *Joel is...


"River of Dreams"


* *

Joel is a man of many obvious talents, but Protest Singer isn't the strongest suit in his pop closet, as "We Didn't Start the Fire" proved. Nonetheless here he further indulges his penchant for weightiness, evidencing a case of Don Henley envy that won't quit. Beware the soapbox floating down "River of Dreams," a stream of social consciousness most buoyant when it breaks off into shallower tributaries.

The album gets off on its worst foot with "No Man's Land," in which Joel the Rock Populist rails earnestly against imperialist consumer culture overtaking the heartland. "Two Thousand Years" celebrates about "the crossroads of time . . . on the verge of all things new," when we'll see "science and poetry rule in the new world to come"--as opposed to the two millennia of hypocritical AD culture that, to hear him tell it, culminated in his being ripped off by his manager, the subject of "The Great Wall of China."

You can't fault him for not wanting to be just a silly-love-songs guy, and his stretches seem heartfelt, if strained. But Joel is on surer footing with his Odes To Christie, such as "All About Soul," the best thing Neil Diamond hasn't done in a decade. As color schemes go, he's better off touting the wife's "Blonde Over Blue" features than fretting about life's "Shades of Grey," as if he'd just discovered ambiguity.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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