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The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Music review: Return of the Piano Man

Billy Joel drops new love song ahead of Valentine’s Day
Before “Turn the Lights Back On,” Billy Joel had not released original music since 2007. (Photo courtesy of Stereogum)

In 1993, Billy Joel released his last original pop album “River of Dreams” and gave us his “Famous Last Words,” singing “These are the last words I have to say/That’s why it took so long to write/There will be other words some other day/But that’s the story of my life.”

That “other” day was last Thursday when Joel released his latest single, “Turn the Lights Back On.” 

The single is Joel’s first since 2007’s “All My Life,” though he has largely been promoting the song as his first since “River of Dreams,” literally turning the page on “Famous Last Words” in the single’s announcement video.

I adore the cover art for this single, which features Joel at his piano with a single spotlight illuminating him as he is surrounded by faint lights which appear to be stars or flashlights of fans at a concert. The black and white photo encapsulates the Billy Joel of today, an entertainer, but it also gives us a glimpse into the other side of that spotlight — just as the song does.

In “Turn the Lights Back On,” Joel returns to his roots in a “The Stranger”-esqe single in which he asks his partner if there is any way to fix a relationship that has been damaged by time. He sings to his partner, “As we’re laying in the darkness/Did I wait too long/To turn the lights back on.”

The instrumental of “Turn the Lights Back On” is reminiscent of a classic Billy Joel love song. The music is perfectly matched to the emotional arch of the song and the piano solo at the end is, of course, stunning. The addition of a string orchestra gives the song a dreamy, grand and wistful feeling. 

The song begins very abruptly with the lines, “Please open the door/Nothing is different/We’ve been here before.” While I love the imagery and the eagerness of the person in the song to mend his relationship before it is too late, it is jarring to jump in immediately to the lyrics, especially when the song has such strong orchestration. During his 2024 Grammy’s performance of the song, Joel began with a short piano introduction which I think the recorded track could have benefited from.

While the song is clearly about turmoil in a romantic relationship, I cannot help but see undertones of Joel’s professional career. In the lines Though I used to be romantic/I forgot somehow/Time can make you blind/But I see you now,” Joel could be referencing his catalog of love songs that he left behind when he quit releasing music. I am excited to see if this release, coupled with the end of his iconic Madison Square Garden residency, is an indication that he is planning on turning the lights back on his music recording career. 

Is it my favorite Billy Joel song? Of course not, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” exists. I am fortunate to have seen Joel perform live – he does not sound the same as the 20 to 40-year-old Joel found on his albums. However, it is so special to me to have a song so distinctly in his style with the voice of the Billy Joel that I grew up with. 

“Turn the Lights Back On” is a lovely jumping-off point for what could be the start of a new era for the Piano Man.

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About the Contributor
Isabella Gaglione
Isabella Gaglione, Culture Editor
Isabella Gaglione (she/her) is a junior English and Film & Media Studies double major from Long Island, New York. The Lafayette's resident Taylor Swift Reporter. 

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