Here's what I knew about Jackson Browne about 6 months ago:
1. He sang "Stay" and "Running on Empty".
2. He collaborated with Warren Zevon semi-regularly.
Upon repeated listenings of Running On Empty, I've decided I really like it. While shopping for Christmas presents for my family tonight, I found The Best of Jackson Browne on sale for $6. For six bucks, why not? asks I. You can't miss, I reply. So, here's my running thoughts on The Best of Jackson Browne, while I kill time until my mechanic opens at 7. This might not actually be interesting to read, since no one else can hear the album unless you happen to own it. It will, however, take a long time, and that's the goal at the moment.
1. Doctor My Eyes: Hey, I know this song! So this is Jackson Browne too. I could probably recognize his songs more easily if his songs weren't the archetypal example of baritone singer/songwriter. You know, the theme of people going to doctors to solve their emotional issues is not a new one in rock and roll. Except Jackson Browne wrote this one, so it's like that, only done better than pretty much everyone else who ever did it. Favorite line: "People go just where they will. I never noticed them until I got this feeling that it's later than it seems."
2. These Days: Not much to say about this one. It's a nice, moody ballad, pretty much exactly how you'd expect a nice moody ballad to sound. This one I don't relate to as much, as when I'm moody and down about my life, I tend to be more extroverted to try to jump start me out of it.
Favorite line: "Now if I seem afraid to live the life I've made in song, it's just that I've been losing for so long."
3. Fountain of Sorrow: Man, Jackson Browne has not lived a happy life. He's like an anti-rock star. Or like Emily Dickinson, if Emily Dickinson had ever been within a thousand miles of Cool. Actually, perhaps in past lives, Jackson Browne dumped Emily Dickinson for being a whiny whiner, and their future selves couldn't stop writing poetry about it.
Favorite Line: And while the future's there for anyone to change, still you know it seems easier sometimes to change the past.
4. Late for the Sky: I think everyone has sleptwalk through a relationship or two, just automatically saying easy things, and realizing there was nothing there except that both people wanted something to be there. Jackson Browne, however, seems to have done this with every woman he ever dated.
Favorite line: How long have I been dreaming I could make it right if I closed my eyes and tried with all my might to be the one you need?
5. The Pretender: You know, sad, reflective love ballads don't really move me too much. Yeah, yeah. Love ends. It's sad. Blah blah blah. But this... this... ok, now I'm depressed. Congratulations.
Favorite Line: Say a prayer for the pretender, who started out so young and strong, only to surrender.
6. Running on Empty: Ah, the Springsteen Gambit: Disguise your moody lyrics that might not make people feel good when they sing along with them by using an upbeat tempo and driving chords. I personally find this song to be completely awesome.
Favorite Line: In '69 I was 21 and I called the road my own. I don't know when that road turned into the road I'm on.
7. Call it a Loan: Apparently sometime in the late '70s, Jackson Browne discovered he could get more radio play if his songs had choruses. The regrettable side effect is that it cut into his lyric writing freedom. I can't really find any gripes about this song, but I can't find any particularly favorite lyrics either. It simply could be that I'm ODing on break-up songs too.
8. Somebody's Baby: I know this song too! I've never been particularly impressed by it when I've heard it on the radio. It's one in a million songs that do not prompt me to change the station, but don't prompt me to run out and buy an album or even worry about who sings it. Now, however, it makes much more sense in the context of Jackson Browne's body of work. Even the really attractive people that everyone wants to date are consigned to lives of loneliness becomes everyone assumes they're taken, to the point that they try their hardest to not notice them.
9. Tender is the Night: At some point in every rock career, you begin to say "I like the earlier stuff better." I think we've arrived here. Jackson Browne is straying from his tried-and-true "I'll just do what everyone else is doing, only much much better" plan, and trying to incorporate the pop sounds of the early 80s. It's not a good move. Not at all. The lyrics are stil pretty solid though.
Favorite Line: I can't walk back in after the way we fight when people outside are laughing, living lives we used to lead.
10. In the Shape of a Heart: Hey, uh, just re-read that last paragraph. Good lyrics, but I'm just not a fan of the instrumentation. I mean, I was ok with The Cars in the '80s, because they at least went all out with the electro-pop sound. This folksy synth mix doesn't work for me.
Favorite line: "[People] Speak in terms of belief and belonging, try to fit some name to their longing, People speak of love."
11. Lives in the Balance: Wait a minute, this isn't about breaking up with a girl and feeling really bad about it. In fact, this isn't about anybody breaking up with anyone at all. And it's not even a depressing acknowledgement that you'll never be as cool as you wanted to be. Are we sure this is Jackson Browne? Of course, the really depressing part about this anti-war, anti-crappy media anthem is that it could be written about pretty much any time in U.S. history.
12. Sky Blue and Black: Out of the 80s, thankfully, and Jackson can go back to his original style, only a little mellower. In case you were wondering, Jackson is still breaking up with people, and still feeling really bad about it. In fact, he wants to be friends and make her feel better. This, I think, is a bad idea almost 100% of the time.
13. The Barricades of Heaven: Also, Jackson is still coming to terms with the fact that he's not as cool as he always hoped he'd be.
14. The Rebel Jesus: This isn't really a true "Best of Jackson Browne", rather, it's a new song tacked on to the end. It deserves to be included; I like it better than the last five or so. It's a nice little anti-hymn about how not Christlike actual Christianity is, and how the real purpose is to make people feel good about themselves. Very ethereal sounding.
Favorite Line: In a life of hardship and of earthly toil, there's a need for anything that frees us.
15. The Next Voice You Hear: Hey, I know this one. I don't know how. I think it must be the radio, as it was released in 1997, which puts it way too late for me to hear it via one of my older sisters. Despite the moody and generally depressing tone of all of Jackson Browne's songs, this is the only one with what I would call a dark sound. Most of the others are simple mellow grooves.
Favorite Line: Throw down your truth and check your weapons.
Hmmm, I've still got four hours. Time to watch The Godfather Part II, I suppose.