Browne does not, on this record, address the following plights: the whales, the Dodgers’ inability to find a center fielder who hits with power and the shortage of certain Nintendo cartridges. Otherwise he covers it all—war, apartheid, hunger, homelessness, the CIA, military spending, hatred, gang violence, drugs, repression in Nicaragua—in a bravura exercise of his duties as self-appointed First International Minister of Conscience-Wracking, Self-Flagellation and Rock and Roll. If there’s a bit of political catchphrase cant worth its feathers, it’s on this album.
What’s debilitating is that he treats these concerns with such superficiality. Browne never infuses these issues with any humanity, keeping everything on such an abstract level the ears glaze over.
Musically sophisticated and full of alluring rhythms, the album burdens itself with its ponderous messages. Browne shows a sense of perspective, let alone humor, only on a tune about romantic relationships: “You got the vote of your high school/ Most likely to exceed.”
His quasi-apocalyptic ideas are impossible to avoid, though, and he has a tendency to end these sour, negative songs with vague, yogurt-in-the-sky promises of hope. These lines come from different songs: “And who knows/ We may see what we’re here for/ Anything can happen”; “Till the world I look out at this world and see/ Is the world I know this world can be”; “And how long will it be till we’ve turned/ To the tasks and the skills/ That we’ll have to have learned/ If we’re going to find our place in the future.”
OK, J.B.: Take two Leo Buscaglia books and call in the morning. (Elektra)