Jackson Browne has always veered between self-absorption and social awareness. His inner division grew downright unbridgeable when he discovered left-wing politics; less able than ever to solve his inner split, Browne swerved ineffectually from more or less cardboard polemics (his late ’80s records) to navel gazing (1993’s I’m Alive). He could write about politics and he could write about romance, but not in the same song.
Looking East, Browne’s 11th album, is his first real attempt to fuse the personal and the political. ”I want to live in the world,” he sings on ”Alive in the World,” ”not inside my head.” He wants to live in both, of course, and makes a tentative effort in ”Some Bridges,” locating his ruminating lover in class-divided L.A., not some Jacksonian inner landscape. ”Culver Moon” is Browne’s breakthrough: musically raw, lyrically caustic, an ode to love and lust in a decomposing world. Browne backslides into rhetoric a few times (”Information Wars”), but the album’s overall message is clear: He intends to keep growing. Without taking himself too seriously, either — ”I’m the Cat,” which has no social agenda whatsoever, is Browne’s most infectious tune since ”Somebody’s Baby.”
Beneath that preternaturally pretty exterior, we’re finding, is a core of stubborn creativity. Browne isn’t a genius, but he’s a shrewd craftsman who industriously seeks, and finds, ways to mirror his open-eyed passage through life. In his last album, he had to tell us he was alive; here, he proves it.