I'm a fan of Jackson Browne, I just like how the guy writes songs. His lyrics are usually thoughtful and he can turn a phrase pretty well. Musically some of his stuff can suffer from sounding the same album to album (he recycles songs sometimes in my opinion). Just not to the point I discard him. When Browne is on target, I relate to his songs more than most other songwriters. So it's a bit ironic that the first tape of music an apolitical guy like me was Browne's most political effort, Lives in the Balance.
1. For America
This is the song that got me hooked, it was straight up AOR. Big beat, steely synths, strident melody - you know, the stuff dreams are made of. I also liked the lyrics about a redemptive type of patriotism versus blind faith, not realizing before buying the tape that it was a set up for a whole agenda. Cap it all off with a Clarence Clemons sax and you've got mid 80's magic.
I never knew what this song was specifically about other than abuse of power until I saw this You Tube clip, where he says it's about the person who commands the soldiers (I took it to mean the President). It has that world beat mixed with rock sound that kinda works, kinda doesn't for me. Was never my favorite from this album. Usually hit the fast forward button on this one.
Probably the best known song on the album, it tells the story of love going down the tubes with a touch of quiet resignation and pain. The only part that sort of stuck out wrong is a section that alludes to domestic violence, just because six years after the release of this album actress Daryl Hannah claimed Browne was abusive to her (Browne has denied this vehemently). Hannah and Browne were a high profile couple at the time. In happier times, they appeared together in Browne's team up with the Big Man on their hit You're a Friend of Mine a year earlier. Though watching this video, you might think Browne and Clemons were the couple.
Another straight up AOR gem about a girl named Candy. Sort of Cars sounding to me, I liked this song a lot because it fit what I listened to perfectly. Other than the compassionate take on a young girl's dreams, this could have easily been done by John Waite or a multitude of other 80's rock bands. I actually mean that in a good way.
As gang violence was escalating in the streets, Browne decided to write about people looking for hope in the "Lawless Avenues" of Hispanic neighborhoods. The section in sung in Spanish was fun because High School Spanish was still fresh in my head. Couldn't tell you much of what he's singing now. Anyway, at the time I bought the tape I was visiting L.A. and though I didn't see any gangs there this song made me feel like I knew what was going on in the "streets". Of course I really didn't, but that's part of being a teenager.
Browne aimed his cynicism at foreign affairs and came up with this gem, one of the few political songs I really really like. He uses strong lyrical imagery on how War can be used to further power and money at the cost of human life in the name of freedom. The acoustic version on Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 is downright moving.
7. Till I Go Down
When I think Jackson Browne, I think...reggae? Browne gets his groove on with a bit of defiance. And no, it's not pretty.
This was one of two that fit in the "Jackson Browne classic sound" territory ("In the Shape of a Heart" is the other) where the lyrics are introspective. With "time running out" he decides to make a difference. A few years back I was surprised to hear this in a supermarket. Amazing how I can hear better music buying groceries than on the radio.
This album was the beginning of Browne's commercial slide, people coming here to find another Late For The Sky were disappointed it seemed. That and laying out extensively liberal politics, particularly in the Reagan era, was like painting a bulls eye for people to slag him. His follow up, the weak World in Motion, ended his relevance but that just makes this album stand out more. A strong AOR album with some Springsteen elements and a well rounded theme.