River of Dreams
Released in 1993, River of Dreams is Billy Joel's last album of pop music, and a close listen makes it obvious why. Joel had been betrayed by people around him. He'd taken financial hits throughout his career and suffered at the hands of critics enough to make him wonder why he was still pursuing his childhood dreams. "The Great Wall of China" lays it out in surprising depth. The hard funk and anger behind "A Minor Variation"—unexpected from a playful craftsman like Joel—musically makes it clear that he's hanging up his rock 'n' roll shoes with the best rock music of his career. The entire album expresses variation upon variation of Joel's frustration. "No Man's Land," an excellent tight rocker against suburbia, is virtually trivial compared to the existential issues elsewhere. "Shades of Grey" is pure midlife crisis. "All About Soul" and "Famous Last Words" resonate more deeply than most of the hits in his catalog. Fans didn't believe it at the time—and Joel still does perform every now and then—but this is Joel saying goodbye and good luck.