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The Naked Ride Home
Artist: Jackson Browne
Label: Elektra/Asylum
Length: 10 tracks

It is a crying shame that Jackson Browne does not sell the quantities of albums that he did in the seventies. By that decade’s end Running On Empty was going seven times platinum and spawning hit singles. Disco Apocalypse in 1980 was just that, an attempt to become chart friendly and the end times of his ascendancy. Not that there were not great songs in the albums sporadically released in the next two decades. Politically packed albums like Lives In the Balance, that looked at the United States and specifically its dubious contribution to Central America, and World In Motion, which looked beyond his homeland to wider perspectives including a song about Nelson Mandela, were all provocative and useful but they didn’t warm the soul or cut the ice like his vintage albums Late For the Sky and The Pretender.

Well, The Naked Ride Home fulfills all the potential that his last two releases, "I’m Alive" and "Looking East" hinted at. Since the release of the patchy but hopeful Looking East six years ago, Browne has been touring with the same players and the sense of fusion of these most talented of west coast players pays real dividends on an album that has echoes of the spirit of Late For the Sky and is his most satisfying record since then. Kevin McCormick’s bass shuffles and struts around "Walking Town," Jeff Young’s Hammond organ lights up "About My Imagination," and Mark Goldenberg’s sharp and tasty guitar brightens things up throughout. In some ways Browne could be described as a west coast Bruce Springsteen, more laid back and beach tanned than run down streets and calloused hands. More beach shorts than blue collar.

Always adept at throwing out lyrical dynamite in the gentlest and most seamless of ways The Naked Ride Home is Browne had his most philosophical, political and spiritual thoughts beneath the seeming veneer of introspection. It is a fine highlighting of the greatest artistic gift; to be incredibly objective in his subjectivity. It is just a shame that the release will be bypassed by too many people in favour of less challenging and more shallow albums.

The Naked Ride Home
A song about Browne’s lover getting her kit off in the front seat of the car could lead into a very unsavory title track but underneath the seeming titillation there is a theme that actually underlies the whole album. Mesmerised and turned on as Browne is with his partner’s surface beauty the song is about the nagging doubts of what lies underneath ­ “Her beauty, a sight so misleading/I failed to hear the heart that was beating alone.” The song, very much based in the moment, ends up with a decision to be made about the longer term.

The Night Inside Me
With a lyrical nod back to "Late For The Sky" while musically a descendent of "Lawyers In Love," the night here is not a dark and foreboding place where you wait for the day but rather a haven of calm and peace from the madness that the day brings. As Browne has done so well for almost thirty years it begins in the most personal of introspection but his search within himself leads him to the questions of his age, in this case the speed and thus chaos of the modern day schedule:

I walk around inside the questions of my day
I navigate the inner reaches of my disarray
I pass the altars where fools and thieves hold sway
I wait for night to come and lift this dread away
The chaos, he exposes, has got us by the throat. We are obeying that which we do not want to but have to. And yet he sees this other possibility:-
It takes the night to clear all of this mess away
The obligation, the burden and the light of day
It takes the night to fall between the world that I obey
And a world where I hear angels play
Maybe I should go back to Spain…
A place where, he so poetically put it, angels play? Heaven somewhere out there, a vision of an alternative. For Browne, he throws out, that was Spain, where he has lived for a period since his last record, Looking East. A place where obviously he felt he escaped from that which unravels us.

Casino Nation
Browne looks East again giving the album’s only blatant political rant. Mind you it is concentrated stuff with Browne packing in his views on the media, commerce, fame, gambling and the justice system all under the shadow of “a weapon producing nation under Jesus.” The “fabled crucible of the free world,” he describes it and ultimately the punch line is that man serves the entire infrastructure of the nation rather than the infrastructure serving man. It echoes Jesus suggestion of how the Pharisees had hijacked the Sabbath and burdened the people beneath that which should have benefited them.

For Taking The Trouble
Here is more romantic advice in a similar theme to the title track. Whoever, here, has learned the hard lesson of love that Jackson had already learned he is going to rearrange his expectations for the perfect partner ­ “that girl who catches every eye/Or the one you can set your compass by.”

Never Stop
And then Jackson suggests that he has found a different lady from the one that distracted his eye on The Naked Ride Home and sings a song about one who he is pleading with to keep his compass right. "Never Stop" has similarities to "Some Bridges" on Looking East where the love of his woman is a spiritual resource in the midst of that chaotic world described in "The Night inside Me." He is near praying that she, “never stop coming up with all of that love for me” and then it goes wider than his own needs to that of us all ­ “And never stop coming up on the world love wants to see.”

Walking Tow
Dandering around with a socially observant eye and yet “bound” and “mute” to doing anything about the obvious chasm - “some folks find a pretty good deal/Some are just looking for their next meal” ­ on our streets. Caught up in the busyness aforementioned in "The Night Inside Me" and made numb by our comforts Browne points his finger, “Stressed out in the latest style/How long has it been/ Since you walked a mile/In yours or anybody else’s shoes.”

About My Imagination
Another song that confesses Browne’s habit of falling too easily for momentary pleasure at the expense of what is more meaningful ­ “It’s been hard sometimes to find my way/I let my pleasure lead my little world astray” ­ but ultimately this is a song of possibilities. The songwriter’s imagination is not only for the making of his art but for creating within himself and outside of himself a better world. Like Bono has done before him (on "Bad" and "Elevation") he allows the excitement of rhyming his “ations” to become a little annoying, a whole lot tedious and very, very contrived but somehow there is so much happening in the soul of the song that you forgive him. In the end with his imagination at full throttle he is “sending out this invocation/I keep getting these excitations/More light, more love/More truth and more innovation.”

Sergio Leone
A tribute to the director of a plethora of last century’s cowboy movies this is possibly the least satisfying song on the album and it weighs in at almost eight minutes. Worth it though for the last lines that maybe say as much about what Browne wants to achieve in his work as it does state what Leone achieved in his “With the darkness and anguish of a Goya or Van Cleef/He rescued truth from beauty and meaning from belief.”

Don't You Want To Be There
On an album that already seems to inhabit that space between where we obey this world’s pressures and a place where the angels dance, Jackson takes us to that angelic dance floor in this song about heaven. It is a place where “the light is breaking” and where there is “a golden glow.” Very much central to it in this song in particular is forgiveness. It is a place “where forgiveness rules/ instead of where you are” and a place where the listener is encouraged to go and make it right with the people he or she has wronged and to let go of the bitterness that grows when someone wronged them. If you have never thought of heaven or if you have decided that it is not the place for you Browne is very persuasive in his altar call:

Don’t you want to be there, don’t you want to know
Where the grace and simple truth of childhood go
Don’t you want to be there when the trumpets blow

Blow for those born into hunger
Blow for those lost ‘neath the train
Blow for those choking in anger
Blow for those driven insane

My Mystery Companion
A love song to finish and it is the final piece in the trilogy that began with the title track and had a half way point in "For Taking the Trouble." Here we are introduced to the mystery companion who has helped set Browne’s compass and who he invites to keep working on him. It is all done in the backdrop that has hung over this entire record, the world that gets “more and more demanding” and the seeking of a retreat where “we could slow down/And you could put a little more work in on me.”

The Naked Ride Home is a song cycle of a man who has been there and made the mistakes, got sucked in and as a result spat out and now in his early fifties he has gained the wisdom to be able to make albums that could be of such benefit to those who are sadly listening to Noel Gallagher or Eminem or worse. 

Steve Stockman 11/2/2002
 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2 - Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster. He has his own web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine

 

 

   
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