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Billy Joel Is Ending One of the Longest Droughts in Music. Who’s Next?

Billy Joel sent shockwaves through his fan community earlier this month by announcing plans to release a new single, “Turn the Lights Back On,” on Feb. 1. He hasn’t put out new material of any sort since 2007’s “Christmas in Fallujah,” and River of Dreams was his last album of original pop songs way back in 1993.

Joel is performing on Feb. 4 at the Grammys, where he’s likely to debut the song live, but there’s still much we don’t know. What inspired him to release a new song after all this time? How did he team up with producer Freddy Wexler and co-writers Arthur Bacon and Wayne Hector? Does his touring band play on the song or was he backed by studio pros? And most importantly, is this a one-off or are more songs coming? Might a new album be in the works?

While we ponder all of this and await answers, our thoughts turned to other major artists who haven’t released new albums in many years. Here are 10 of the most notable cases. We break down the cause of the drought for each of them, and look ahead to the possibility of it ending. We focused solely on acts that have continued to perform live in one form or another in recent years, like Joel; that’s why you won’t see hopelessly defunct bands like Talking Heads, the Smiths, and Led Zeppelin. We’d love to see new albums from all of them, but we need to live in the world of the possible here. Let’s start with the Piano Man himself.

Billy Joel — 31 Years Since Last Album

Last Album: It’s technically 2001’s Fantasies & Delusions, but that’s a classical piano album where British-Korean pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo plays compositions written by Joel. We aren’t counting it since they aren’t pop songs, there are no vocals, and Joel doesn’t even play on the thing. That means River of Dreams is his last proper album. The 1993 LP was a big hit that landed the title track plus “All About Soul,” “No Man’s Land,” and “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” on the charts.

What Happened? The short answer is that Joel lost interest in putting out new music. And since he has enough hits to tour forever and draw enormous crowds, he had little incentive. “I still write music,” he told Rolling Stone in 2019. “I just don’t record it, and they’re not in song form. It’s another kind of music altogether. It’s purely for my own edification. I don’t feel compelled to record it. I don’t feel compelled to make myself be relevant. Like I said, I lived the rock & roll life, and I’m not writing that anymore.”

Odds of a New Album: Up until this week, they seemed absurdly slim. Joel is 75, playing the biggest shows of his career, and his post-River of Dreams recording career (31 years) is now much longer than his pre-River of Dreams career (22 years). But now we have a new song about to hit, and the news that he’s working with a hip, young producer. As crazy as it sounds, it’s not 100 percent impossible to imagine a new Billy Joel album coming out in the next few years. (It’s just pretty unlikely.)

Zack de la Rocha — 25 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: When Rage Against the Machine broke up in 2000, frontman Zack de la Rocha said he planned on cutting a solo record now that he was free from the band. It’s nearly a quarter-century later and we’re still waiting to hear even a single song from it. His short-lived supergroup One Day as a Lion dropped a five-song EP in 2008, but they broke up before they could finish an album. Rage Against the Machine did release the covers LP Renegades in 2000, but we’re only counting albums of original material on this list. That means the last proper album made by Zack de la Rocha was Rage’s 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles.

What Happened? The truth is we simply don’t know. Zack never grants interviews, and he remains a mysterious figure even to his most devoted fans. Rage Against the Machine did get back together for a reunion tour in 2007 that lasted on and off til 2011, and another one in 2022 that flamed out after just 19 shows due to de la Rocha rupturing his Achilles tendon. He remains an incredible vocalist and one of the most compelling frontmen in rock, but new material just never seems to materialize.

Odds of a New Album: A new Rage Against the Machine album is very, very hard to envision at this point. Drummer Brad Wilk recently revealed via Instagram that the group will not be resuming their reunion tour. “I’m sorry for those of you who have been waiting for this to happen,” he wrote. “I really wish it was.” The other members of the band have been oddly quiet about the situation, but there’s no reason to think he’s incorrect in saying the group is once again over. One Day as a Lion broke up after playing just 13 shows in 2010 and 2011. We suppose that famed Zack solo album might surface at some point, but it feels less and less likely as time goes on.

Phil Collins — 22 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: Collins released an album of Motown covers in 2010 called Going Back, but we’re using the Rage Against the Machine Renegades rule here and not counting it. That means the 2002 album Testify is Collins’ last real one. It came out long after Top 40 radio or MTV would go near him, but he still had a minor hit with a cover of Leo Sayer’s 1978 classic “I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try).” Taylor Swift heard this version, and covered it herself on the BBC in 2019.

What Happened? As Collins himself documents in his harrowing 2016 memoir Not Dead Yet, his life started falling apart a few years after Testify. His wife left him and took their young kids with her. He developed a severe drinking problem that nearly killed him. He also suffered significant nerve damage that made it impossible for him to drum. At this point, he can barely walk. He returned to the concert stage for solo shows and a Genesis reunion tour where he sang from a chair, but he essentially retired after the last Genesis gig in 2022.

Odds of a New Album: His weakened physical state likely rules out any future tours. And since that last Genesis gig nearly two years ago, Collins has rarely been seen in public. It’s possible he’s been quietly working on a new solo album for the past few years, but there’s no evidence of that. Sadly, it’s quite likely Testify was his final bit of testimony.

Lauryn Hill — 22 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: This is a slightly complicated one, since she hasn’t released a proper studio album since 1998’s classic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But she came back in 2002 with MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t count a live record. But this is a two-disc set where every song is a new, original tune besides a cover of Bob Marley’s “So Much Things to Say.” If she sat in a studio and played this same set, it would undoubtably count as a legit album. And so we’re going to count it here.

What Happened? To put it mildly, Ms. Hill had a hard time dealing with fame. Huge opportunities came her way after the success of Miseducation, including a lead role in the Charlie’s Angels movie, but she had no interest in pursing any of them. “The idea of artist as public property, I also always had a problem with that,” Hill told Rolling Stone in 2021. “I agreed to share my art, I’m not agreeing necessarily to share myself. The entitlement that people often feel, like they somehow own you, or own a piece of you, can be incredibly dangerous.” Religion and her growing family became the focal point of her life after Unplugged 2.0. She was also sued by many of her collaborators on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill over credits. They settled out of court, but the experience left her bitter. In 2013, she was sentenced to three months in prison for not paying her taxes. She has continued to tour throughout the past 20 years, including reunion dates with the Fugees, but new solo songs never came.

Odds of a New Album: Rolling Stone‘s Brittany Spanos asked her this very question back in 2021. “The music business can be an industry of entanglements, where a small number of people are expected to be responsible for a very large number of people,” Ms. Hill said. “It’s hard to find fairness in a situation like that. Now, I look for as much equity and fairness as possible. I appreciate being loved for my contributions to music, but it’s important to be loved for who you are as a person just as much, and that can be a delicate but extremely important balance to achieve. Experiencing that is important to me.” In other words, don’t expect new music anytime soon.

Fleetwood Mac — 21 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: The Rumours lineup of Fleetwood Mac reunited for a lucrative world tour in 1997, and they headed into the studio not long afterwards to begin work on a long-awaited record. Keyboardist Christine McVie quit the band early in the process, but the other four carried on, and eventually finished work on the double LP Say You Will in 2003. “The album is a randomly sequenced display of Fleetwood Mac‘s best instincts,” Rolling Stone’s Arion Berger wrote. “Buckingham’s bittersweet tunes about playing for keeps; Nicks’ tough, swirly songs about fragile and wicked women; and the experiments the group can’t stop indulging in (near-classical and metal-inclined guitar, teen pop, an incoherent number about the media). And when this accumulation of chops rallies for a single, the result is the perfectly mellow breeze of the title song.”

What Happened? It took Fleetwood Mac so long to make Say You Will that the music industry was essentially melting down by the time it came out thanks to file sharing. The album also didn’t find much of an audience. The fans who come to see Fleetwood Mac want to hear the old songs. It didn’t take long for the band to drop every Say You Will song from their live set. Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood wanted to try to make a follow-up, but Stevie Nicks had no interest. “I don’t think we’ll do another record,” Nicks told Rolling Stone in 2017, stating what was obvious by then. “If the music business were different, I might feel different. I don’t think there’s any reason to spend a year and an amazing amount of money on a record that, even if it has great things, isn’t going to sell. What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.”

Odds of a New Album: Virtually zero. Fleetwood Mac aren’t really even a band at this point thanks to McVie’s death in 2022, not to mention the nasty schism between Nicks and Buckingham that led to a lawsuit and a 2018-19 tour where he was replaced by Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers and Neil Finn of Crowded House. There are reports that John McVie isn’t in great health. All of that means a Fleetwood Mac tour today would basically just be Nicks and Fleetwood, unless she can somehow mend fences with Buckingham. There are very slim odds of that coming to pass, but if it does, they’ll just do a farewell tour and call it a day. A new album is simply never happening.

Steely Dan — 21 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: Steely Dan retired as a live band in 1974 to focus all of their energy on making records. When they reformed in 1993, there was suddenly big money to be made on the road. They shifted completely and became a live act that didn’t bother with the studio. That changed in 2000 when they cut Two Against Nature, their first LP in 20 years. Much to their shock, it won them a Grammy for Album of the Year over landmark works like Radiohead’s Kid A, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, and Beck’s Midnite Vultures. Three years later, they released Everything Must Go. This one received mixed reviews and zero Grammys.

What Happened? Two Against Nature hit just months before Napster transformed the music industry. Everything Must Go landed in a very different environment just three years later. And when it was met with indifference, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had little incentive to make another one. It was just so much easier to keep banging out “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” over and over and over at concert halls.

Odds of a New Album: The death of Walter Becker in 2017 means that Steely Dan is now basically just Donald Fagen and whoever he happens to be playing with at any given moment. This new incarnation of Steely Dan tours every single year, and will be on the road opening for the Eagles‘ farewell tour for the foreseeable future. Fagen hasn’t made even a solo record since 2012’s Sunken Condos. If he gets the urge to release new music, it’ll likely be under his own name. Steely Dan is purely a live act at this point. Everything Must Go was indeed a going-out-of-business record.

John Fogerty — 17 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: Fogerty has been busy touring and cutting covers records over the past 15 years, including 2009’s The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again, 2013’s Wrote a Song for Everyone, and 2020’s Fogerty’s Factory. But he hasn’t released an album of actual new material since 2007’s Revival. Much like 2004’s Deja Vu All Over Again, many songs on the album took aim at George W. Bush and his foreign policy. “Revival is no rerun,” Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke wrote in a review. “It is Fogerty getting back to work — and finally acting on his own advice, in a song he’s actually named after his old band: ‘You can’t go wrong if you play a little bit of that Creedence song.’”

What Happened? There hasn’t been a John Fogerty song in the Hot 100 since “Eye of the Zombie” reached Number 81 in 1985. His 1997 comeback album Blue Moon Swamp generated a lot of buzz, but Deja Vu All Over Again and Revival came and went without much notice. His live show, meanwhile, focuses almost entirely on CCR classics. It’s hard to blame him. The man wrote a major chapter of the Great American Songbook between 1968 and 1970. What else does the world want from him?

Odds of a New Album: John Fogerty’s current live show features 16 CCR songs, the three singles from his 1985 LP Centerfield, and a lone selection from Blue Moon Swamp. Everything he’s done since the turn of the millennium is totally ignored. New material just isn’t at the forefront of his mind at all. He’s also turning 80 years old next year. We may get one last album before he calls it quits, but there’s no sign at the moment that he’s working on one.

The Eagles — 17 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: Hell Froze Over in 1994 when the Eagles reunited for a tour that was so lucrative that Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and other 1970s superstar acts reformed soon afterwards. The Eagles kept touring throughout the late Nineties and early 2000s, parting ways with guitarist Don Felder in 2001. The remaining quartet of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit began work on an album that year entitled Long Road Out of Eden that eventually came out in 2007 as a Wal-Mart exclusive.

What Happened? The Eagles added six Long Road Out of Eden songs into their live set when they went on tour in 2008, and they kept five of them there for the next couple of years. That’s a much greater effort than most veteran acts put into flogging new material on the road. But they totally dropped the album from their live set after 2011 with the exception of a single performance of “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore” in 2018. There’s just no market for new Eagles songs. They are the definition of a heritage act.

Odds of a New Album: Somewhere between .01 percent and .000001 percent. They’re in the middle of a farewell tour. Glenn Frey died in 2016. Walsh and Schmit are still on board, but Don Henley is the last man standing from the original lineup. Their plan is to keep this farewell tour going until audience demand dissipates, which is unlikely to happen any time soon. But it’s even harder to imagine them cutting a new album.

Guns N’ Roses — 16 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: Chinese Democracy came out in 2008 after one of the longest gestation periods of any album in rock history. It also cost over $13 million to make. That was a crazy price tag for an album in the pre-Napster era; it’s complete and utter madness in the post-Napster era. All of that said, it’s not a bad album. It’s just wildly over-baked. “Better,” “I.R.S,” “Chinese Democracy” and several other songs are quite strong. They grew even stronger when Slash and Duff McKagan got their hands on them during the reunion tour.

What Happened? Chinese Democracy bombed. The original band reunited in 2016. They toured and toured and toured and toured. They made endless piles of money. And it’s just much easier to step onstage every night and play old songs than it is to head into the studio and create new ones most fans don’t even want.

Odds of a New Album: The reformed Guns N’ Roses has released a handful of “new” songs in the past couple of years, but they’re all updated recordings of tracks that originated in the Chinese Democracy era. We’ve yet to hear an actual new composition. Slash and Duff have said many times that a new album is coming at some point, but we’ll believe it when we hear it.

The Cure — 16 Years Since Last Record

Last Album: Up until the late 2000s, the Cure released a new album every three or four years like clockwork. The most recent one was 2008’s 4:13 Dream. It was originally plotted as a double album, but Robert Smith chopped it down to a single. “On the verge of 50 and leading a double-guitar gnarly-glam version of the Cure,” Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke wrote in a mixed review of the album, “Smith sounds less like a lovesick prince in 4:13 Dream‘s looping-riff viscera and swallow-you-whole echo, and more like the avenging middle-aged Roger Waters on Pink Floyd’s Animals.”

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What Happened? Robert Smith became ever so slightly unreliable when it came to promises of a new album. He told fans in 2014 that a follow-up was coming called 4:14 Scream. That never happened. And whenever he spoke to the press in the decade that followed, he insisted the new album was imminent, now going by the title Songs From a Lost World. “It’s so dark,” he told Rolling Stone in 2019. “It’s incredibly intense… We’ll finish it before we start in the summer, and it’ll be mixed through the summer. And then so release date, I don’t know, October? Halloween! Come on!”

Odds of a New Album: They can’t mess with fans forever and never deliver. The new album must be coming at some point, right? They tour all the time. This is a great lineup of the band — just last year they had one of the summer’s most-talked-about tours. What’s the delay? At this point, going to one of their shows is like seeing a band in 1994 that hadn’t released an album since 1978. That’s a really long time. Robert, come on. We’re all starting to lose our patience here. If Billy Joel can put out new material, you can do it too.

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