Excellent music, clever lyrics
J. Houzet | Chicago, IL | 02/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My favorite Jackson Browne song is the catchy satire "Lawyers in Love," but my favorite Browne album is a toss-up between World in Motion and Lives in the Balance. Jackson Browne always had political commentary among his songs, but he became extremely activist on his albums in the '80s. This could have become an incredible bore if the man didn't make good music. Listening to his albums as a foreigner in another country, his politics were folksy in any case. I didn't get personally riled or say "Yeah!" But now, having lived in the U.S. for nine years, I have a better feel for its history and politics, so I could see where Browne was coming from. No doubt the man is a liberal, but I can live with that and still enjoy his songs.
"For America" was a big hit, at least overseas, and I remember the music video for it. So I wonder why Browne has left the song off both of his Best of compilations. Maybe because folks might misinterpret it as being a rah-rah for America song? It's not, it's a lament for what Browne saw as America's shortcomings even though he loved his country. The theme continues on "Soldier of Plenty," in which Browne excoriates Reagan-era America for its military involvement around the world, but most especially in Latin America. Browne reinforces his sympathies for Latin America by using Latin beats and Spanish guitar on a couple of songs here: "Lawless Avenues", a song about poverty and crime in the barrio, in which Browne sings a verse in Spanish, and the title track, which even has lovely backing and a bridge played on pan flute. My favorite track is probably the reggae-flavored "Til I Go Down," also a rant against Reagan and the military. "Black and White" is apparently a putdown for conservatives who see the world in black and white, believe communism was bad, and use terms like "evil empire." It also has a great melody.
On "Shape of a Heart," Jackson gets more introspective, singing about domestic violence, perhaps his own tendencies to beat on the women in his life. It is at least known by now that Browne lost his temper and smacked women around.
The problem with artists like Jackson Browne is that they overlook atrocities carried out by leftist dictators and non-Western megalomaniacs. For them, Fidel Castro is a great guy, just misunderstood. So Jackson and his pals always end up singing (and generally complaining) about how bad America is for not being a welfare state (?) and for using force to oust dangerous and brutal dictators, when a simple "You naughty boy!" and a futile U.N. resolution would do. But at least Jackson sounds nice when he complains. I really do like his music."
Miss Ivonne | Louisville, KY USA | 12/27/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Jackson Browne released "Lives in the Balance" in the mid-1980s; however, the songs seem snatched from today's headlines: a war in Iraq (this time with us rather than the Iranians); the U.S. attempt to destabilize democratically elected governments in Latin America because we don't like them; an establishment which declares wars its children won't ever be called to fight. The more things change, ...."
A seriously underrated album that's seriously great.
L. Petit | Akron, Ohio USA | 04/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After five fantastic albums in the 1970's, Jackson Browne stumbled a bit when the 1980's came around. "Hold Out" was passable, but underwhelming. "Lawyers in Love" was better, and was Browne's first album to be somewhat political in tone. It wasn't until "Lives in the Balance", though, that Jackson really got back into the swing of things. Even more political than "Lawyers...", "Lives in the Balance" was a criticism of Reagan-era foreign policies, and while you'd think it would be dated because of this, it instead remains frighteningly up-to-date, especially in these troubled times.
The record kicks off with "For America", in which Browne regrets having previously worried about himself and his troubles while ignoring the real problems in the world. It would be easy to mistake this song for a patriotic anthem, not unlike Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.", what with the refrain containing lyrics such as "I was made for America" and "It's in my blood and in my bones", but just like that song, the rest of the song tells a different story; America is great, but there's some problems that need addressing. This song is, put simply, a classic, and yet it's ignored on both of Browne's "Best Of" albums; a terrible exclusion. It's pretty rocking to boot.
The rest of the record remains strong, as well. "Lawless Avenues", the title track, and "Black and White" (among others) focus on foreign/political issues rather than Browne's introspection. "Black and White" closes out the album, and includes the haunting repetition of "Time running out...". Not exactly a happy ending, that's for sure.
Jackson doesn't completely abandon the issue of relationships, however. "In the Shape of a Heart" tells the tale of love gone very wrong. It's heartbreaking, and it's great. Even on this mostly political album, Browne created one of his best relationship songs.
"Lives in the Balance" is interesting in that it's a product of the 80's, and yet still remains current. It doesn't quite reach the standards of Browne's mid-70's output such as "Late For The Sky", but this is a very strong album neverthleless. Well worth a purchase.