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04/09/04
Reviewed by - George Bennett


Billy Joel
The Stranger

SACD :

Released: August 22, 2000
Origination Year: 1977
Time: 40:17
Tracks: 9
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Style: Studio
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD
Website:
www.billyjoel.com





Although Billy Joel had been recording for several years (his first, and probably best-known hit, 'Piano Man', is from the 1973 album of the same name), it was 1977's The Stranger, his fifth album, that made him a pop/rock icon and earned him a much lauded career in music.  Thanks to The Stranger, Billy Joel became a superstar.

 

I remember seeing advertisements for The Stranger all over the music industry mag Billboard back in '77, and that damn album cover looked so cool at the time.  We all wondered "what's this?  Something big is coming..."  There was an air of excitement and mystery surrounding this release...no details were given but a picture of the album cover and the release date.  Columbia was dumping truckloads of money into this record, and, as it turned out, rightly so.  The entire album is a pop masterpiece, each song flowing into the next, each bringing a new excitement...a new ooh or ahh.  In this writer's opinion, The Stranger is one of the Top 10 pop/rock discs of all-time, and boy does this SACD do it the justice it deserves!

 

Originally helmed by Columbia Records whiz-kid engineer/producer Phil Ramone (who would continue to produce Joel's LPs from then on through his salad days, until 1987), The Stranger, as well as the balance of Joel's catalog, was always initially recorded very well, indeed.  Ramone is back onboard for this SACD remix/remaster and he does a magnificent job.  The sound has a pleasing "brightness"...a "snap" to it that makes the recording seem much alive.

 

The SACD 5.1 surround mix is wide open and uses all 5.1 speakers to literally fill the listening room with spacious sound.  This work has always sounded great, but the SACD mix kicks it up more than a few notches.  It has never sounded better, or, for that matter, this good!  This is what SACD is all about!  I prefer a good surround mix to stereo (and I used to be the purest of died-in-the-wool audiophiles - CDs!  Surround sound!  Ha!  Humbug!  I still consider myself an audiophile, but I have seen the light, thank goodness, and am no longer a Luddite, as so many still are.  Their loss.) and this one delivers a boat load!  Dynamic range and transient response (as in a drum's "thwack") are palpable...the frequency response high to low perfect.  The soundstage covers the area from the front speakers to behind the listener, left and right, and, often, as in the best mixes, allows the front speakers to disappear as a point source of sound...now seeming to eminate from somewhere between the front wall of the room and the listener's nose.  

 

In the title cut of The Stranger,  the noise floor is inaudible, the background dead quiet during the soft piano/whistling intro and outro.  The sound is tight, with great dynamic range, and sets a great "NYC streets at night" mood.  As throughout the disc, the drums recording is excellent.  (Drummer Liberty DeVito is one of the most under-appreciated drummers in rock history.  He's fast, tasteful, clean, and plays exactly what fits at any given moment - there ya go, Liberty !!  You da man!!)

 

'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant' is the center piece of the disc, running the gamut from quiet, moody sketches to snappy pop settings to an anthemic ending that slips into a "cig after sex" outro that caps it off perfectly.  The acoustic guitar strums in the right surround speaker shimmer with clarity, the sax is in the room with you.  Again, the drums are recorded with great care and are palpable.  The drum sound and tuning is excellent.  Separation is outstanding.  When the accordion is present during the Italian restaurant bits, it's in the right surround speaker and sounds just right right there (right?).  

 

In 'Only the Good Die Young', again the drums and cymbals are right there in the room, they sound so very real!  Hammond B3 comping that was not apparent before is now brought forward a bit in the mix and is separated from the other instruments and is mighty fine.  It's hearing this previously hidden stuff that is one of the things that is so cool about SACD multi-channel openness, transparency, and separation!  The guitar chords are crystal clear and the sound of the hi-hat cymbal is one of the most realistic ever recorded.  The bass takes a nice "walk" throughout the tune, and the Jerry Lee Lewis chops in the piano's upper register are more apparent.  Excellent!

 

There is an absolutely silent background in the intro to the beautiful 'Always a Woman', with crystalline guitars in the left and right surrounds that finger pick or cascade pick in unison with the piano fingering up front.  The effect is truly awesome if you love great sound!  Presence and realism are stunning.

 

Man, talk about being bathed in sound...This is an excellent recording, remixed and remastered by original producer Phil Ramone into an almost perfect SACD surround experience.  If I recall correctly, this was among the first batch of SACDs I purchased and, man, did I ever fall in love with it upon first listen!  I think you will to.  Hear what a truly great SACD surround mix of truly great music and arrangements can do for you, and to you.  Grab this one, post haste!!

 

(Note:  disc available in SACD format only.  Is not a hybrid disc, so you'll need an SACD player.  At today's prices [$150-$250 for an excellent machine!], what are you waiting for!?)

     


Track Listing:

Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) / Stranger / Just The Way You Are / Scenes From an Italian Restaurant / Vienna / Only The Good Die Young / She's Always a Woman / Get It Right The First Time / Everybody Has a Dream.

Audio Features -
DSD Stereo
DSD 5.1 Surround


Billy Joel:

Billy Joel - Vocals / Piano / Keyboards


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