New York State of Grind

A song about Billy Joel releasing, after a long absence, a new song.

Despite not releasing any new music in the past seventeen years, Billy Joel remains a New York City mainstay. His continued presence in the city feels so assured, and his music so ubiquitous in the tristate area (he’s slated to play his 150th Madison Square Garden show in July), that it’s hard to see the point of his new single, “Turn the Lights Back On.” In short, behind the thin pretense of a story about romantic reconciliation, it’s a song about Billy Joel releasing, after a long absence, a new song. And it sounds, well, just like a Billy Joel song.

It’s worth asking why Joel, who has long insisted that he was retired from songwriting, felt that now was the time to make his return. One hint appears in the video for “Lights,” which rests on a familiar premise: Joel sitting at a piano. But twenty seconds in, present-day Joel gives way to eerie AI-generated versions of Joel at different points in his career, singing along with glitchy facial expressions. As AI Billy croons, “And maybe you love me, maybe you don’t / Maybe you’ll learn to, and maybe you won’t,” it’s not hard to imagine that the song is a final, insecurity-laden appeal. New York, apparently, is still a tough crowd.

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