Jackson Browne

The Naked Ride Home

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Jackson Browne was so much the archetypical L.A. singer/songwriter of the 1970s that it's tempting to view him as a man out of time on his 2002 album The Naked Ride Home, but while some will dismiss him as a fossil from the days when the Mellow Mafia ruled, that's not really where Browne's first album of the 21st century goes wrong. For the most part, The Naked Ride Home devotes itself to Browne's two favorite themes -- the slightly melancholy recollections of relationships either failed or failing which dominated albums like The Pretender and Late for the Sky, and socio-political observations of an increasingly chaotic world in the manner of Lives in the Balance and World in Motion. But the problem is that Browne hasn't come up with any stories about his personal battle of the sexes that sound especially fresh or compelling on The Naked Ride Home, and while his songs about post-Y2K America are stronger (particularly "Casino Nation"), most of the time he doesn't appear to have a specific axe to grind or causes to speak either for or against beyond the growing ugliness of our culture. The craft of Browne's songwriting is still strong, and his performances are pin-sharp and passionate, but unfortunately the very real strengths of The Naked Ride Home only make its flaws all the more glaring -- namely, that Browne's muse hasn't taken him anyplace new and interesting in some time, and even though it's clear he still takes the arts of songwriting and recording very seriously, the results lack the depth or the impact of his earlier work. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Joni Mitchell have all proven it's possible for a veteran songwriter to gain a second wind and remain fresh and relevant; one can only hope the same will be true of Jackson Browne someday, but that new breeze did not arrive in time for The Naked Ride Home.

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