Usually among the most introspective of songwriters, Jackson Browne
cast his gaze on the world outside on Lives in the Balance
and did not like what he saw. Beginning with "For America," he lamented his previous indifference to social issues -- "I went on speaking of the future/While other people fought and bled" -- but immediately tried to make up for lost time. The album's context, of course, was five years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, with what the Left saw as an indifference to the plight of the poor at home and a dangerously aggressive policy against insurgent movements in the Central American countries of El Salvador and Nicaragua that they feared would lead to a Vietnam-like war. Without naming those places, Browne
wrote and sang passionately against poverty in the songs "Soldier of Plenty" and "Lawless Avenues" and against war in "For America," "Lives in the Balance," and "Till I Go Down." Elsewhere, his more familiar themes of romantic ("In the Shape of a Heart") and philosophical ("Black and White") disillusionment also made appearances.