Not everybody likes Jackson Browne. This website is unstinting in its non-praise of the highly respected singer-songwriter originally born in Germany, but who took LA as his home and inspirational muse: either Wilson or Alroy proclaims, ‘I’ve never enjoyed Jackson Browne’s dull, meandering melodies and toothless, self-important tenor’, and says of his album Late For The Sky (1974),
Musically, this is utterly generic LA soft-rock: one part James Taylor, one part Eagles, one part Graham Nash. Maybe that’s what Joni Mitchell saw in him: like Nash and Taylor, Browne was romantically involved with the vastly more talented Mitchell as a step on his road to stardom. Enough catty comments: on to the music. There’s nothing new here harmonically or rhythmically, the melodies sound instantly familiar, and the record’s so laid-back that when he does crank up the volume on the rockers “The Road And The Sky” and “Walking Slow” it’s jolting. Lyrically the record is more interesting than Browne’s sensitive romantic, Alan-Alda-with-a-guitar image would lead you to expect: many of the tunes are apocalyptic (“Late For The Sky,” “Before The Deluge”) and he attempts to steer clear of clichés (“Fountain Of Sorrow”) though he doesn’t always succeed (“The Late Show”).
The Magritte-inspired cover of Asylum Records’ release Late For The Sky drew one in instantly, but once there, the mellow production created an ambience as calming as an episode of your favourite sitcom, a pizza and then Sleepless In Seattle to go with the cheesecake. But hold it there…this was a man who had already written songs for the Eagles and Nico (quote: ‘I’d have to say that my favorite thing is writing a song that really says how I feel, what I believe – and it even explains the world to myself better than I knew it.’), and had hired some of the best session musicians around. And what does one make of lyrics like this:
And while the future’s still there for anyone to change, still you know it seems
It would be easier sometimes to change the past…
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
Awake again, I can’t pretend, and I know I’m alone
And close to the end of the feeling we’ve known…
How long have I been dreaming I could make it right.
It would appear there is much more to this artist than meets the eye. The album set the stage for the even darker The Pretender three years later. Make up your own minds as we return to Soundstage in 1976:
Peel was a great fan of Browne’s music, and he was still playing the very tracks I feature here today on his show in 2000. The dark vein of melancholy in Jackson Browne’s work is highly appealing, even more so now than in the 70s. This makes it even more incomprehensible to me how he could only feature in one Festive Fifty chart, for this music is timeless, and from some things we never move on, or even want to. Which was JB’s point entirely.