Looking at the cover of his thirteenth studio album, Standing in the Breach, which shows a young couple making their way through the debris and flames of an apparent bomb attack in the Middle East, it would appear that Jackson Browne’s latest recording is his most political and apocalyptic, yet.
But upon listening to just the first few songs on this ten-track offering, this dramatic image quickly seems to be very out of place with the musical content.
Browne is unquestionably a lyrical genius. His first four studio albums, the first of which was released in 1972, are each timeless classics. His songs of past love, lost friendships and current affairs were both profound and simple at the same time.
In the 1980s, his writing shifted from his personal stories of heartache, to his political activism and social views. Browne is a dedicated activist, but this shift in flavour did not please all of his following.
Since then, he has released albums dealing with politics, albums dealing with love, and albums that are a combination of the two. Standing in the Breach one of the latter.
Opening with The Birds of St Marks, it is soon apparent that Browne’s unique songwriting ability has not faded, even at the age of 65. Similarly, his voice, although somewhat aged, is still intact; but now with a depth of life, which befits a singer-songwriter who has made some of the most enduring albums of the last four decades.
Like many of the songs in his back catalogue, the opener could be interpreted as either a personal or political ballad. It is, however, typical of Browne, in that hidden within it’s melancholia is a hopeful message and uplifting melody.
This latest offering from Browne contains a lot more of a country music flavour than any of his previous albums. One of the album’s finest moments, The Long Way Around, is a mellow bluegrass-influenced political message. In contrast, Leaving Winslow is the classic ‘country wanderer’ song, which could have been performed by Johnny Cash, himself, as Browne sings about riding the rail roads.
If I Could Be Anywhere, the record’s seven minute-long epic, deals with Browne’s war against plastic and the destruction of the planet, preaching: “The world can’t take it, that you can see. If the oceans don’t make it, neither will we.”
Yeah Yeah is most reminiscent of Browne’s early works. Another upbeat yet melancholic track, it would not have been out of place on his classic album, The Pretender.
Standing in the Breach is perhaps not the most cohesive release by Browne. Too often, artists who have released albums considered timeless masterpieces, in Browne’s case, Late for the Sky, are constantly judged against what has already been. Nonetheless, Standing in the Breach is a solid collection of songs, written by one of the 20th century’s most revered songwriters, who has proved here that, personally and politically, he still has plenty of fire in his belly.