Billy Joel

Box sets as catalog ghetto

Collector's Disease

Billy Joel

The Complete Albums Collection (Columbia)

The first six titles of this 15-album catalog in mini-LP sleeves make up Billy Joel's first act, spanning 1971's Cold Spring Harbor to 1978 hit 52nd Street. There's a fistful of genuine radio hits, including "She's Got a Way," "Piano Man," and the genuinely lovely "She's Always a Woman" from 1977's The Stranger, but while many of the archival songs from the piano man's youth strive to be cinematic, they come off as melodrama, even if it's a compelling study to cue up his "New York State of Mind" from Turnstiles (1976) next to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind." Joel's second act, the Reagan-era oeuvre, picks up pop-singer steam with "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" (Glass Houses, 1980) and blue-collar anthems "Allentown" (The Nylon Curtain, 1982), "Uptown Girl" (An Innocent Man, 1983), and "The Downeaster 'Alexa'" (Storm Front, 1989). The hidden gem comes last, in what should be Joel's third act, Fantasies & Delusions (2001), music for solo piano composed by Joel and performed by British pianist Richard Joo. A gifted instrumentalist, Joel's real talents, it turns out, have been shrouded by schlock pop. 2005's 4-CD My Lives boxed an alternate history of Joel the hit maker. The Complete Albums Collection confines him to the sociopolitical zeitgeist of each album's 15 minutes.

*.5

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