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.
Jackson Browne closed out the 80s with another political album, 1989’s World in Motion. It was another misstep.
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.
Jackson Browne released his biggest hit between albums, when he wrote ‘Somebody’s Baby’ for the soundtrack of 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The song made it to #7, one spot higher than his first-ever single, and only other top ten hit, ‘Doctor My Eyes.’
The following year he released Lawyers in Love, another rock album in the vein of Hold Out. Again, the critical response wasn’t great, and again, I kind of dig it.
Jackson Browne started the new decade with 1980’s Hold Out, an album considered his first dud by most critics. Nevertheless, it was also his first (and only) album to reach #1 on the Billboard chart, powered by his newfound popularity post-Running On Empty and a couple of minor hit singles.
I remember seeing this album in cut out bins back when I used to spend much of my free time CD shopping. Between that fact, the critical consensus, and the cheap-looking cover art, I did not have high hopes for this record.