Usually among the most introspective of songwriters, Jackson Browne cast his gaze on the world outside on Lives in the Balance and did not like what he saw. Beginning with "For America," he lamented his previous indifference to social issues -- "I went on speaking of the future/While other people fought and bled" -- but immediately tried to make up for lost time. The album's context, of course, was five years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, with what the Left saw as an indifference to the plight of the poor at home and a dangerously aggressive policy against insurgent movements in the Central American countries of El Salvador and Nicaragua they feared would lead to a Vietnam-like war. Without naming those places, Browne wrote and sang passionately against poverty in the songs "Soldier of Plenty" and "Lawless Avenues" and against war in "For America," "Lives in the Balance," and "Till I Go Down." Elsewhere, his more familiar themes of romantic ("In the Shape of a Heart") and philosophical ("Black and White"); disillusionment also made appearances. But, from its hard rock sound and forceful singing to its frankly agit-prop lyrics, "For America" remained primarily a political statement, and if Browne sounded more involved in his music than he had in some time, the specificity of its approach inevitably limited its appeal and its long-term significance.
Lives in the Balance Review
by William Ruhlmann