track. But the album gets down to business with its second cut, "We Didn't Start the Fire."
Storm Front's propulsive first single, "We Didn't Start the Fire," sounds the alarm on a society that has lost its moral center and is spinning out of control. Telescoping forty years of history into a feverish, chronological roll call of political leaders, pop icons and world events, Joel charts the steady erosion of our national spirit since 1949 incidentally, the year of his birth. The singer captures the carefree mood of '49 in the first of a series of musical time capsules: "Harry Truman, Doris Day, red China, Johnnie Ray/South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio." But as the song rushes toward the present, it catalogs the crises that have compromised our dreams. Ending with a spirit-crushing litany of contemporary social horrors "Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz/Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law" Joel shouts, "I can't take it anymore!"
The broad cultural sweep of "We Didn't Start the Fire" finds a personal focus in the record's next track, "The Downeaster 'Alexa'." The song tells a haunting tale about a Long Island fisherman who cannot provide for his family because government regulations have crippled his livelihood. With its slow, martial beat and plaintive, gull-like violin squalls, "Alexa" casts a dreamlike image of a wrecked man "trolling Atlantis," navigating a lost world. The song reaches an aching climax when, stirred by the memory of his fisherman father, the man cries aloud, lamenting the death of his family legacy. That Joel's daughter is named Alexa Ray only heightens the song's resonance.
Joel's other protagonists experience vague frustrations and longings. The character in the hard-driving "I Go to Extremes" futilely tries to account to his girlfriend for his inconsistent moods and wavering confidence. The lover in "Shameless" sings with perverse pride about his enslavement to his woman's affections, while his swaggering alter ego in "Storm Front" disowns domestic bliss and sets sail on a sea of temptation.
Not all of the weather on Storm Front is so heavy, however. Joel offers heartening assurances on "When in Rome," an uplifting, R&B-inflected anthem about love's survival. And on the stately "Leningrad," Joel chronicles how his 1987 visit to the Soviet Union melted his cold-war f