It’s also the longest record he’s ever released, its ten songs running a full hour. Six of these tracks run six or seven minutes, turning it into a test of patience at times. Often that padded running time is dedicated to long instrumental interludes, which doesn’t help.
The political songs made a comeback, but fortunately they don’t dominate the album and, for the most part, they are more subtle than earlier efforts. That said, I have to call him out for this particularly awful verse:
To make us think we care about the planet
At the same time polluting and looting the only world we’ve got
So they can maximize their profit?
I was critical of Jackson Browne’s last two albums of the 80s, but all is forgiven with the arrival of 1993’s I’m Alive. Inspired by his breakup with actress Daryl Hannah, this record marks a return to the personal, confessional songwriting of his early triumphs.
I’m Alive deserves a spot among the great breakup albums. It is sadly beautiful and beautifully sad, a marvel melodically and lyrically. Browne’s words are heartfelt and perceptive, both raw from the painful separation and wise about the path behind and in front of him.
How can a man who wrote such poignant and perceptive lyrics about the human condition release a song containing this verse: “When you think about the money spent on defense by a government and the weapons of destruction we’ve built, we’re so sure that we need, and you think of the millions and millions that money could feed, how long can you hear someone crying, how long can you hear someone dying, before you ask yourself why?”
With 1986’s Lives in the Balance, Jackson Browne made an unfortunate pivot from the personal to the political. The thoughtful poet who so successfully mined matters of the heart was now singing about Ronald Reagan.
I call this shift unfortunate because I have an aversion to overtly political songs, especially when they are dressed up with glossy production. It’s one thing for Bob Dylan or Joan Baez to sing about civil rights with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica in the 60s, but do I need Sting crooning “Hey, Mr. Pinonchet” over a bed of soft jazz? No, I do not.