With the help of producer Mick Jones, the guitarist from Foreigner, Billy Joel went in a power-pop direction on "Storm Front." The punchy and energetic tunes "That's Not Her Style" and "We Didn't Start the Fire" both establish a swaggering and urgent tone right away -- but the best tracks on this CD are the quieter ones with piano at the forefront. Some of these songs definitely sound like they were written, recorded, produced and released in the late 1980s, but it's unfair to pigeonhole this entire 1989 record as overproduced and too glossy for its own good. "Leningrad," for example, is as beautiful as anything Joel has ever written. The song is a tender, mournful snapshot of a Russian man named Viktor, a "child of war" who lived through the gloom of Communism to find eventual joy. Joel eloquently sums up Viktor's life and sublimely encapsulates a segment of post-World War II Russian life as if it were a musical history lesson. It's a truly striking song, with lyrics that tug at the heart.
For every canned-pop tune on this CD -- "Shameless," "Storm Front" and "When in Rome" come foremost to mind -- there are ones like the sweeping and sea-laden "The Downeaster `Alexa'" and heartfelt "Leningrad" that save it from `80s insignificance. And with the tranquil "And So It Goes," Joel saved the best for last -- despondent lyrics and a lush-sounding piano; it's a heartrending song about inevitable divorce, which, given the way Joel defends his well-known lady on the opening track, is a surprising way to go out.
"Storm Front" sparkles and pops with probably the topmost bells and whistles that musical production could offer at the time, but the music ultimately lacks the heart, drive and soul of Billy's best work.