Jackson Browne

Time the Conqueror

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Time the Conqueror is Jackson Browne's first studio offering in six years. The last was 2002's Naked Ride Home for Elektra. Browne established his sound in the '70s and has made precious few adjustments, with the exception of a couple of records in the '80s where the keyboards and drum machines of the period were woven into his heady, West Coast pop, singer/songwriter mix. Whereas his '90s albums I'm Alive and Looking East, as well as Naked Ride Home, mirrored the personal concerns of his '70s records in more elegiac terms, Time the Conqueror returns in some ways to Browne's more overtly political statements from the '80s such as Lives in the Balance and World in Motion and weighs them against the personal, but he's all but forgotten how to write hooks. The title track is as personal as it gets; its breezy, cut-time beat and airy melody signals motion like the white lines clicking by on a highway. They underscore both time and life passing away, juxtaposed against the need to appreciate each moment. Browne accepts the blindness of the future as he does the helplessness of the past, though he doesn't accept aging. The next couple of tracks underscore this. There's the elegy to the '60s in "Off to Wonderland," a paean to the lost innocence of the heady years of idealism betrayed in both the Kennedys' and Martin Luther King's murders. The last line in this midtempo rock ballad is: "Didn't we believe that love would carry on/Wouldn't we receive enough/If we could just believe in one another/As much as we believed in John." It was wonderland, all right; these ideals were not hollow but they had no basis in American reality. The hardest rocking cut is "The Drums of War," which is Browne at his most didactic. It's as much a renewed call to arms as it is an indictment of the Bush years. It's a quickly passing moment, however, in that the very next track, "The Arms of Night," is a spiritual paean urging the listener to seek love in the right places. It's tender, confused, and authentic, but dull. "Where Were You?" has more teeth with its stuttering attempt at 21st century funk. Musically it serves more as a rock track with actual rhythm than it does funk. It's another socio-political indictment of alleged apathy in the post-millennial age. This album goes on, with no real aim other than telling us things that Browne's been thinking about these days (with the exception of the Latin-tinged "Goin' Down to Cuba," the best tune here; it's the only song with something resembling a hook). Browne seems to be speaking to his own generation; he's still trying to make sense of the world he wanted to live in and the one he actually does. Next time out, though, instead of worrying about his "enlightened" perspective, perhaps he should pay more attention to what made his earlier songs feel as if he actually owned one: craft. Most of these songs feel like quickly dashed off poems; it's all "tell" with no "show," because there isn't anything in the music to effectively offer them to the listener as conversation; instead they are on display as mixed-message sermons.

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