CK Retro Review: World In Motion by Jackson Browne

1989’s World In Motion continued Jackson Browne’s foray into social and political issues, albeit without the same grace and deftness that he managed on his previous release Lives In The Balance. A big problem was the music, which was listless and pock-marked with some of the 80’s most egregious production excess. As a result, some lovely tunes and effective lyrics were somewhat lost in the shuffle, adding up to an album that is far more admirable than memorable. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

10. “Chasing You Into The Light”- Repetitive musically and forgettable lyrically. Browne’s narrator wants to come off like some kind of savior to the girl he’s addressing but comes off more like a stalker.

9. “World In Motion”- It sounds like some of the synthesized blues with which Steve Winwood was having success at that time. Not so much for Browne. It’s well-meaning, and having Bonnie Raitt around helps, but it’s not a good harbinger, as the title track and opener, for the rest of the album.

8. “How Long”- There’s a decent piano ballad hidden in here, because the melody has all the heart-twisting peaks and valleys of Browne’s 70’s classic work. But those overbearing synths drown a lot of the charm from the music and there’s nothing really that he hasn’t said before about social issues like hunger or nuclear war.

THREE STARS

7. “My Personal Revenge”- Some of the sentiments may get a little lost in the translation between Spanish and English, but the undeniable prettiness of the music is enough to make this one a pleasant diversion.

6. “When The Stone Begins To Turn”- Browne, never known as the most rhythmic rocker, actually sounds more at home in the reggae setting of this plea for the freedom of Nelson Mandela than in some of the fussier productions elsewhere on the album.

5. “Enough Of The Night”- The lyrics are actually quite nice, an affecting character sketch that means a little more because of the narrator’s emotional connection to the girl being profiled. It never quite settles on what it wants to be musically though, making for a bit of a bumpy ride.

4. “Lights And Virtues”- Old buddy David Lindley gives the album a pleasant benediction on the closing track with his slide work. Browne drinks a toast to some positive intangibles and leaves us on a note of ambivalence, hinting at what means the most in life and how we should deal if the pursuit of it comes up empty: “The pleasure of love and friendship/The courage to be alone.”

3. “The Word Justice”- The specificity of Browne’s diatribe here, targeted at the connection between drugs, weapons, war, and profit made by those in the halls of power, sets it apart from some of the more generalized protests found in other songs. It’s still overproduced by half, but the audible fire in his belly for the cause enlivens the entire enterprise.

2. “Anything Can Happen”- Every single sound on this song sounds manufactured instead of played. Yet Browne damn near overcomes it all with a tune that rises from sorrow to majesty and a lyric that balances the personal and political as well as anything on the album. “We change in ways a life demands,” Browne sings, a line that speaks to the transformation he believes can occur on a larger level, and you might believe it too when he hits those piercing notes in the refrain.

FOUR STARS

1. “I Am A Patriot”- Steven Van Zandt’s protest song comes from the heart and the gut, and Browne seems absolutely liberated to sing it after all the heavy, cerebral stuff he labors to spew throughout the album. So too does the music avoid the bloat that weighs down other songs by gliding lightly on a skittering rhythm and buoyant acoustic guitars. Maybe it’s a bad sign that the best song on the album is a cover, but Browne deserves some credit for doing such justice to a track that was relatively obscure at the time.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

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