You can say a lot of things about Billy Joel. Some bad and some good. On the surface he very much seems like a glorified piano bar lounge lizard like the one he sung about in the song 'Piano Man.' I think he gets a lot of his criticism because he is difficult to categorize. Is it adult contemporary schmaltz? Is it Rock and Roll? Is it radio friendly pop? Is it show tunes? The compositions are a bit more mature than standard radio pop, but not quite complicated or mature enough to be much else. So to sum up you have an average piano player, average singer, average lyricist an above average band a wonderful songwriter that can write exceptional melodies and, finally on this album, an exceptional producer - Phil Ramone. Phil, more than anyone else heard and understood Billy's music and knew exactly how to put it across.
I got this album and 52nd street at the same time so they get confused a lot in my head. I sometimes think a song was on one or the other album. 52nd street is the more mature album, but certainly the weaker one. The Stranger is a masterpiece.
You can certainly hear Billy trying hard to be Springsteen. Of course he doesn't achieve that, but succeeds at being himself and that's good enough.