Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445
Jackson Browne does not rock out; Jackson Browne meanders eloquently—sometimes to a big beat and loud guitars, but not so as to cover the words. Jackson Browne believes in words. That's one of the things I like about him. But in his new album, "Hold Out," he seems determined to rock harder than he has before, and though the words still aren't covered with instruments, they're affected indirectly.
The desire to rock harder has led him to several decisions—mostly involving shortening his usually snaking, convoluted lines and opting for simplified melodies—that not only take the emphasis (pressure?) off the lyrics to some degree but contribute to an overall impression that he didn't have anything very large to say this time out anyway…. Coming from Browne, this album is more nearly a holding action than a case of holding out. To keep things in perspective, though, it does make some small, useful additions to a collection of his songs, and when you compare it with most other people's albums, especially those that try to rock out, it would have to get a "Special Merit" tag.
This trying to rock too hard becomes annoying only once, really, in That Girl Could Sing. It is truly one of Browne's weakest songwriting efforts…. At the other extreme, there's Of Missing Persons…. Although it is nominally addressed to a girl child, it sounds to me as if the addressee might be Browne's son, whose mother committed suicide a few years ago. Browne is not maudlin or coy on the subject; in fact, I'd call this song graceful.
The rest certainly aren't weak songs, but they're all short on Browneness in subtle ways. Disco Apocalypse, the opener, is roughly about how it feels to be one of those characters in Saturday Night Fever, not exactly a ground-breaking theme. Boulevard works with it to book-end the first side with blue-collar/street-kid references (all oblique), sketchily describing a metaphorical turf where it's everyone for himself; it puts plenty of pictures in your head, but it doesn't find out the kind of thing a Browne song usually finds out. Call It a Loan is a nice song, but its ideas and ambition are small, and the title song gets its theme rehashed at unnecessary length in Hold On Hold Out, the last cut. Such overkill on the basically simple idea of holding out is probably the biggest mistake Browne makes here, since both songs tire you with their redundancy and make it appear that there's even more idea-stretching going on here than there actually is.
Noel Coppage, "Jackson Browne," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1980 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 45, No. 5, November, 1980, p. 112.
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