Browne’s first new material in six years recycles old ideas and refreshes them with modern presentation. Though touching in places, Standing in the Breach is an uncomfortable fit akin to cocktails of confusion drunk in his past.
Throughout the album, Browne understands and illuminates how immoral human values – greed, violence, hatred and more – in a public sphere ruin private lives. And vice versa. There’s a sense on this album that Browne is beyond analysing the change and the devolution of the human spirit he pondered over in the past. He’s calling for a change, now, even at 66 years of age. It’s like a wise elder teaching his young.
This path leads, naturally, to somewhat sermon-esque passages at times such as ‘Which Side’, in which Browne asks “Which side are you on?” in a rhetorical manner, following an outline of the destruction caused by politics today.
The title track, written following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, is a hopeful yet mournfully-laced tribute which ranks among Browne’s best. But buried near the end of the album, you can be forgiven for ignoring its excellence if Standing in the Breach is enjoyed in one sitting.
The simple ‘Take it Easy’ infused ‘Leaving Winslow’, titled as a reference to that ‘corner in Winslow, Arizona’ mentioned in the Browne-Eagles hit ‘Take it Easy’ (a corner where a statue ofBrowne stands today, in fact), comes in a close second place. ‘The Long Way Around’ is another powerful song, a 21st-century extension of the song ‘These Days’. It’s perhaps the best balance of sentimentality and politics on the album.
When Browne mixes politics, chirpy tunes and astute observations, the result is often convoluted. Just look at Lawyers in Love, World in Motion or even Looking East.
Browne’s best work is far gone, which is a pretty accepted view. Late for the Sky is precisely 40 years old. For Everyman was very much of its time in1973. And an album like 1976’s The Pretender will just never be replicated. These three albums defined Jackson Browne to some extent and perhaps it is unfair to keep drawing upon them as ‘true’ Browne.
Though Browne does capture his vintage brilliance at times. The otherwise bootlegged and acoustically released ‘Birds of St. Marks’ has a deserved albeit needlessly Tom Petty inspired reworking. A hidden gem is the song ‘Here’, released to accompany the grossly underrated independent film Shrink, which also sees a studio outing.
Songs such as ‘Yeah Yeah’, ‘Which Side’ and ‘You Know the Night’ are purely filler. Despite the talent involved (BenmontTench on the latter) the songs never soar. They glide through to the next.
And while the poetry of ‘Walls and Doors’ is welcome, the melody offers little more than a typical boy-band release. It is not a bad song, but it is certainly not going to be anyone’s most listened.
In terms of modern Browne, I’m Alive from 1994 is arguably the best. Standing in the Breach just holds its own against it and The Naked Ride Home, and is certainly an improvement on the dud Time the Conqueror.
Standing in the Breach remains a turbulent affair. The package simply does not sit comfortably together – an unfortunate realisation epitomised in the bizarre choice of dramatic album artwork while coupling this with folk-rock jaunts.
3 out of 5 stars
Words: Ashley Scrace