David Spiwack

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

It's hard not to love Jackson Browne, even if you're not a teenage girl who can't believe how cute he is. Because the power of his songs extends beyond their compact, bittersweet appeal. They consistently express moods and emotions many of us have felt but couldn't conjure up the words to describe. Yet there is something about [Late for the Sky] that irks me. Something about what Jackson does and where he is going, or better, where he is not going, is beginning to show. (p. 74)

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[This] recognizable persona comes across in the plaintive tone of his weighty statements that often border dangerously on the whine. And after a while, too much of this stuff is depressing. The combined effect of his straining, mournful voice, the resigned profundity of his lyrics, and the predictable sound of his musical style has begun to wear thin.

Unlike the gospel roots from which he derives much of his musical foundation (like the pounding "Amen" bass lines and hanging phrases which delay their eventual resolution), there seems little joy in Browne's performance. It is as though his commitment to being heavy is one which has been imposed upon him rather than being his own choice.

Like Joni Mitchell, most of Jackson's material is based in a type of introspective analysis which he describes in the title tune…. Not only does [the kind of image evoked here] lend itself to easy audience identification, but the tendency is for those without a developed consciousness of their own to embrace this vicarious experience and romanticize it preciously.

Indeed, at their best, Browne's songs do have enormous emotional impact. So clear are his insights into certain facets of personal relationships that the lines have that ring, "or perhaps it is an echo," as Norman Mailer says, "of that great bell which may toll whenever the literary miracle occurs and a writer sets down words to resonate with that sense of peace and proportion it is tempting to call truth."

"The Late Show" … is probably the album's strongest single track. The arrangement is coherent in the same way as the lyrics are…. (pp. 74-5)

Elsewhere, though, Jackson lapses into self-consciousness about the significance of his lyrics, and there are occasional instances where this shows up in a particularly awkward line….

More importantly, he is beginning to paint himself into a corner musically. "The Road And The Sky" sounds like a deliberate attempt at a possible Top 40 hit, but its nagging resemblance to his previous "Red Neck Friend" betrays the limited scope of his uptempo conception….

Browne has found some interesting ways to extend his songs thematically, to keep them from becoming too compact and predictable. Yet the elements—the musical lines and changes—never stray very far from his identifiable style. In this, Jackson has created a genre of his own, and established himself as perhaps its most skillful craftsman. But we've heard this song before, and it's time for something else. (p. 75)

David Spiwack, "Records: 'Late for the Sky'," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1975 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), January, 1975, pp. 74-5.

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