Album Review: Billy Joel – “Storm Front”

Billy Joel’s Storm Front album was released on October 30, 1989. The album peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart, and also produced one of Billy Joel’s number one singles (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”).

The album opens with “That’s Not Her Style,” which was released as the fifth single from the album; however, the single only peaked at number seventy-seven on the Billboard Hot 100. Personally, I like this song, but sonically, it just didn’t appeal to the pop music audience in the early 1990s. However, this song did a little better on the AOR format. Lyrically, the song talks about the rumors about his then-wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley.

The next song is “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which was the first single released for the album, and it reached number one of the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics of the song are allusions to headline events from March 1949 (when Billy Joel was born) through 1989. The lyrical delivery has been compared to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the Word As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” although Billy’s delivery is noticeably slower. This song ended up being used to help teach history to students in the early 1990s. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is one of my personal favorite songs on this album.

“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” was released as the third single from Storm Front, and it peaked at number fifty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The lyrics of the song tell a story of a fisherman struggling to make ends meet and keep ownership of his boat. The fish stocks are depleting, and he encounters more and more environmental regulations. The name of the boat comes from Billy’s daughter, Alexa. Thematically, this song is similar to “Allentown,” where Billy Joel’s lyrics examined the decline of the coal mining industry. I personally like this song; however, it just did quite fit in sonically with what else was coming out on pop radio at the time.

This is followed by “I Go to Extremes,” which was released as a single from Storm Front; it peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Joel has said that the song was written as an apology for his then-wife for his erratic behavior. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the album, and the piano is also a very prevalent instrument on this song. “I Go to Extremes” is a personal favorite of mine from this album, and I probably like it a little more than “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

“Shameless” has more a 1970s rock influence on it in comparison to the other songs on the album. This song ended up getting some airplay on Adult Contemporary radio, and peaked at number forty on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. However, this song is better known for the recording done by Garth Brooks, when he covered “Shameless” for his 1991 album, Ropin’ the Wind. Next is the title song, which is a midtempo song that prominently features horns. Lyrically, the song uses imagery from sailing and boating, and combines that imagery with lyrics about a relationship.

The next song on Storm Front is “Leningrad,” which was released as a single from the album; musically, it borrows some elements from Pyotr Ilyic Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto.” Joel wrote the song about a Russian clown named Viktor who he met while touring the Soviet Union in 1987. The song compares major events in both Viktor’s and Joel’s lives, and highlights the differences between Russia and the United States. This song is seen as Joel’s take on the end of the Cold War. “State of Grace” picks the pace of the album back up, with lyrics talking about two people in a relationship.

“When in Rome” picks the tempo of the album up even more, and it tells the story of a married couple, and how both of them have to work to make ends meet. However, it’s a song of celebration about the couple having each other, even with everything that they have to go through.

Storm Front closes with “And So It Goes,” which was released as a single; it peaked at number thirty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Musically, it has a very simple arrangement; in fact, all it features is piano, synthesizers, and Joel’s vocals. This ballad was originally written in 1983 about his relationship with Elle Macpherson. This song is perfect to close an album with, and it’s also one of my personal favorites from Storm Front.

Overall, Storm Front is a strong album and flows together rather well.  For me personally, it’s not quite a strong as An Innocent Man, but it does come pretty close. To me, Storm Front really captures the essence of the end of the 1980s, especially with songs like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Leningrad.”

I wrote this review after listening to a copy of Storm Front that I purchased.

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