Nowadays, when a rock musician from the early ’70s announces a new album, an eye roll is often deemed acceptable, if not necessary. So, when Jackson Browne announced the release of his new LP Downhill From Everywhere, expectations weren’t necessarily through the roof. As with Ringo Starr’s Zoom In — or just about any post-2000s album produced by a baby boomer for that matter — a new album from Jackson Browne could easily be expected to feel out of touch with the current musical ecosystem and steeped in disingenuous nostalgia.
Downhill From Everywhere occasionally falls into this almost inescapable storyline, but it is by no means engulfed by it. Browne struts his incredible lyricism and even more impressive vocals throughout the majority of the track list, all while proving that one can create half a century’s worth of music while staying in touch with the times. Assuming a minimalistic production style and relying almost entirely upon a four-piece band and Browne’s powerful vocals, the album is filled with easy to listen to songs and mostly avoids the cringiness of current albums by many of his peers working today.
The album shines in its tracks that allow Browne to put his creative songwriting style to work. On “My Cleveland Heart,” Browne writes of heartbreak and the need for life changes, all while describing his acquisition of a futuristic, metallic heart implant. Singing, “They never break/ They don’t even beat/ And they don’t ache/ They just plug in and shine,” Browne is able to pair the reality of his own emotional turmoil with a surreal anecdote about a fictitious medical device. Accompanying the single is an incredible music video where tens of medical students gather around Browne’s body to examine his transplant, and a cannibalistic Phoebe Bridgers consumes Browne’s old heart.
Another highlight off the record is “A Little Soon to Say,” where Browne’s vocals and lyrical skills take center stage. With lines such as, “I wanna see you holding out your light/ I wanna see you light the way/ But whether everything will be alright/ It’s just a little soon to say,” Browne’s sorrows are placed alongside a strange sense of hopefulness. While for many songwriters this duality of emotion might be difficult to present in a poetic fashion, Browne writes such complexities with ease. He shows his audiences that he possesses the musical longevity needed to continue producing listenable songs into his 70s — an incredibly rare asset.
On the other hand, a few of the album’s tracks end up falling into the category of cringeworthy unawareness. On “The Dreamer,” Browne sings of an undocumented Mexican immigrant in the United States who is later deported, despite living almost the entirety of her life inside the states. While the ethos of the song is pure, the Latin-inspired instrumental seems disingenuous and makes one wonder why a 72-year-old, white millionaire must be the one telling such a story.
The final track on the album, “A Song for Barcelona,” is also unimpressive. The song feels incredibly confused and is quite a curveball following its completely unrelated predecessors. For an album with themes spanning from heartache and reflection to global warming, to conclude on a song listing the reasons why Browne appreciates the city of Barcelona is a bit off-putting. Lines such as, “This is a song for Barcelona, for architecture and fútbol/ And for the streets that gave me refuge/ In my escape from rock and roll” reveal that Browne’s earlier knack for nuance in songwriting isn’t as sturdy as it seemed and leaves the album feeling unfinished.
Though not without its flaws, Downhill From Everywhere is a completely listenable album, proving Browne’s ability to adapt his musical stylings with the world around him. At the age of 72, the songwriting and soulful vocals that span the album are made even more impressive and elevate Browne a notch above most musicians continuing to release music from his era. Although the album is certainly imperfect, it remains a fun listen and speaks to the continuous talent and drive living within the artist today.
Contact Ian Fredrickson at [email protected].