Jackson Browne has made the shift back from "Lives in the Balance" to love in the balance.
His first new album in four years, "I'm Alive," sets aside the global and political conflicts that consumed the singer-songwriter's angry attention for much of the last decade, softly supplanting it with the more immediate crises of home and heart.
In other words: It's less to do with war in Central America than war with Daryl Hannah.
But it is Browne's wish that listeners would look for communion and not just clues confirming celebrity gossip about him and his ex in these new songs.
"The situation in my case is somewhat dire," says a laughing Browne, well aware of the preconceptions audiences who followed his romance and tempestuous breakup with the actress might bring to the material.
"People imagine they know exactly what circumstances the song was being written in," continues Browne, who plays tonight and Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre. "But these songs were written over a period of four years, in lots of different states of the relationship, and if you imagine they were all written at one particular point, after the dissolution of the relationship, that misses. . . ."
He takes a breath. "Well, it's a drag to even imagine that people are thinking about that relationship instead of their own lives. I think if a song is any good, eventually it'll turn out to be about the life of the listener and not about the life of the writer. Anyway, that's my hope."
Though Browne, 45, sounds weary of public speculation about his private life, he's not shy about admitting that these songs are autobiographical, and proudly suggests that at least some will stand up with his best confessionals from his early pace-setting albums such as the classic "Late for the Sky."
That's one reason why he thinks of his current live show, which has a running theme based around love songs past and present, as the favorite of all the tours he's done over two decades. On stage, he says, "You really see these songs joining the body of my work."
The bittersweet album has a reservedly triumphal tone in many songs that suggests a survivor's mentality to weathering a busted relationship.
The opening words of the album, in the title song, set the tone:
\o7 It's been a long time since I watched these lights alone
I look around my life tonight and you are gone
I might have done something to keep you if I'd known
How unhappy you had become.
Off record, Browne is faced with surviving some bad publicity as well--there were allegations that he battered Hannah in an incident last year at the Santa Monica home they once shared. Pals such as Don Henley and J. D. Souther jumped to his defense, but Browne remained silent, and says he wants to avoid dignifying the reports by commenting directly on them even now. This album, he maintains, isn't his indirect attempt at having a day in court.
"I think it's OK to view it as what goes on inside of me," he allows. "But people shouldn't imagine these songs are a response to the outrageous speculation that took place in the tabloids.
"I'm not going to provide the actual details of what did happen, because it's not anybody's business. And I'm not even the main feature of that story. I know I'm made to be an ogre and I play the role of the heavy in a story that was put out there, but it's not true--and except for saying that, I don't know what else to do."
But isn't it tempting to respond when the gossip trade is itching to bait you into a defense?
"Of course. But it may be a particular blindness of a celebrity that he's gotta somehow keep the story straight about his own personal circumstance.
"And," adds Browne, veteran of many crusades, "there are many other injustices that you could apply yourself to without thinking your own life is that important."
Still, when it came to writing this album, Browne couldn't help turning to his own life for fodder.
For the first time in a decade, he's released an album free of political concerns. He insists he's no less concerned with injustice--and, in fact, he's still the king of benefits--but was lately less driven to pin it down in song.
"I do think that with 'World in Motion' I exhausted--momentarily, I should say--my capacity to think and deal with (politics). I would admit that, God forbid, I'm not quite sure how to keep abreast of what's going on when the world is changing so rapidly. It was wild to watch events starting with the pro-democracy movement in China, and very capitalistic changes that have happened monthly in the world in the last three or four years, and not really be able to get my arms around it.