Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Jackson Browne Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Jackson Browne (Saturate Before Using) (1972, Asylum)

B +

It sounds utterly raw compared to all the albums that followed it, but Browne’s debut disc, while a little too under-produced to fully command your attention throughout, does sport some truly excellent songwriting, and there’s many a fan favorite here, namely “Jamaica Say You Will,” “Rock Me on the Water,” the underrated and more uptempo “Under the Falling Sky.” The disc also boasts a Top Ten hit in the rollicking piano pop of “Doctor My Eyes,” which sports some find production touches in its use of congas and Jesse Ed Davis’ blistering and bluesy guitar solo.

For Everyman (1973, Asylum)

B –  

Aside from Browne’s own version of the Eagles classic “Take It Easy,” which Browne had co-written, there’s just not a whole lot of hooks to be found on this album, and it’s easy to see why Browne wasn’t able to repeat the Top 40 success of “Doctor My Eyes” with this set of songs. [The only chart hit this time out was the upbeat, #85-peaking “Redneck Friend,” which features Elton John on piano.] Although the music’s not quite as immediately catchy this time out, several of the songs do eventually sink in with some time, and there are a few minor Browne gems here in “These Days,” “Ready or Not,” and the title cut.

Late for the Sky (1974, Asylum)

A

Easily the best of Browne’s early ‘70s albums, the album is admittedly a tad too serious and ballad-heavy for its own good and could have benefitted from an additional lighthearted rocker, but the songwriting is an improvement on the previous album. The breezy uptempo acoustic pop of “Fountain of Sorrow” is an obvious highlight, as are the ballads “For a Dancer” and “Before the Deluge.” It is slightly odd that there was no hit from the album, because both the piano rocker “The Road and the Sky” and the soulful shuffle of “Walking Slow” are easily the two most commercial songs Browne has cut since “Doctor My Eyes,” and the two songs go a long way towards keeping the album from getting too downbeat or overly ponderous.

The Pretender (1976, Asylum)

B +

It’s a little more spotty than Late for the Sky, but there are nonetheless two things that really work in this album’s favor: 1) the production, handled here by Jon Landau, is not nearly quite as raw as it was on the previous three discs, and Browne is clearly a little more willing here to craft something a tad more radio-friendly, and 2) the best songs are truly fantastic, particularly the album’s iconic title track, the slick opener “The Fuse,” and the weary yet incredibly beautiful midtempo pop of “Here Come Those Tears Again,” featuring Bonnie Raitt on harmony vocals. “Tears” would deservedly become Browne’s first Top 40 hit since “Doctor My Eyes” and remains one of his more underrated singles.

Running on Empty (1978, Asylum)

A

A concept album about life on the road and recorded partially on stage and partially in hotel rooms or on the tour bus, this is an awfully novel and creative idea for an album even before you listen to a single note. Thankfully, the execution is just as strong as the concept, and most of the songs are really solid. “Shaky Town” and “You Love the Thunder” are both minor gems, and there’s also a remake of the Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs golden oldie “Stay” that went Top 40 and remains a staple of classic-rock radio. The album’s two greatest moments, though, are the pounding title cut, easily one of the greatest singles Browne has ever written and another classic-rock-radio favorite, and the beautiful roadie tribute “The Load-Out,” one of Brown’s most underrated compositions. This album sometimes gets labelled as “Jackson Browne-lite” by older fans due to its lack of the profound, navel-gazing lyrical style of his prior albums, but Browne also has a tendency to be a little too serious for his own good, and it’s nice to see him lighten up quite a bit here.  A must-own for any Browne fan.

Hold Out (1980, Asylum)

A

Most critics aren’t terribly kind to this album, but bear in mind that this was both his most elaborately-produced and radio-friendly outing to date and his most successful album, Browne’s first and only album to reach Number One. While it’s undeniably a considerably less navel-gazing album than anything Browne has made in the past, it’s actually quite refreshing to hear Browne loosen up a bit and try his hand at writing slightly more traditional and less self-tortured pop songs, and it turns out he’s quite good at it. The hooks never quite let up over the course of the album, and the disc consequently and deservedly yielded two big Top 40 hits:  the perfectly-produced atmospheric pop of “That Girl Could Sing” (arguably Browne’s most underrated single, and one that was inexplicably left off of The Very Best of Jackson Browne) and the more cavernous rocker “Boulevard.” “Of Missing Persons” and “Call It a Loan” are both fine ballads with truly winning melodies, and the fun and slinky “Disco Apocalypse” is one of the most immediately catchy non-singles in Browne’s catalog. It’s a commercial album, to be sure, and not quite as lyrically heavy as prior albums, but it’s also easily Browne’s must unapologetically fun album up to this point and shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Lawyers in Love (1983, Asylum)

B +

For an album with only eight songs, this album has just a little too much filler than it ought to have and could have benefitted quite a bit from the inclusion of “Somebody’s Baby,” Browne’s first-rate and timeless contribution to the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack from the previous year. Still, there’s some great material here. “For a Rocker,” a tribute to the late Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, is a pretty fun album-closer and “Downtown” is just as playful, while “Knock on Any Door” is simply one of Browne’s prettiest mid-tempo songs. The two best cuts here were both Top 40 hits, the light R&B shuffle of “Tender Is the Night,” which sounds like a fusion of sorts of Bruce Springsteen and The Drifters, and the incredibly fun title track, which melds a hilariously tongue-in-cheek commentary on the Cold War to one of Browne’s most playful rhythm tracks to date, complete with a ridiculously catchy recurring guitar riff and a chorus of “sha la las” singing in the background during the instrumental break