THE ALBUM -- "Hold Out," Asylum 5E-511.

It's too bad Jackson Browne can't sing his songs as well as he writes them, but "Hold Out," his sixth LP, holds up anyway. Browne's lackluster vocal performance is no surprise -- the popular rock star's voice never has done right by the eloquent poetry he writes and sets to music -- but on this disc there's still plenty left to cheer about.

The third recording released since the death of his wife in 1976, "Hold Out" marks an apparent lifting of Browne's spirits. Several of the songs speak revealingly of joy and hope and rebirth -- notions not common in most of his earlier work. The recording carries a simple dedication to a new friend -- "This is for Lynne" -- and is characteristically personal at points, sometimes sounding much like a love letter.

As they usually do, Browne's lyrics invite public scrutiny of a private life -- though he refuses steadfastly to discuss the meanings of his songs. He has said that the artist's motivation and the listener's interpretation are of equal importance and that the latter should not be clouded by the former. Nevertheless, "Hold Out," the melodic title cut, is sure to be the topic of some fanciful amateur analysis -- though wondering who it's about, and worrying why he wrote it will only get in the way of the music.

The album is the collective result of some neat studio work, and Browne credits his collaborators for a lot of the magic: "We perform as a band and the arrangements naturally evolve from that performance." pMusicians who worked on the tapings include Craig Doerge, who shares writing credit with Browne for the emotionally moving "Hold On Hold Out"; Doug Haywood and Rosemary Butler, who help smooth out the vocals;" and Bill Payne, Rick Marotta, David Lindley, Bob Glaub and Russ Kunkel on organ, tom-toms, guitar, bass and drums, respectively.

"There's more up-tempo stuff," Browne says of the 40-minute recording. "And there's a theme, too, a cycle of experience. But none of the songs is dependent on that cycle for meaning . . . the songs do work off each other and are compounded as the album continues."

The laid-back, California-style lyrics have changed. Now drawing from a wider variety of sources for his imagery, Browne has fine-tuned his poetic perceptions. The raunchy, rocking "Boulevard" is a rabble-rouser: h Nobody rides for free. Nobody gets it like they want it to be. Nobody hands you any guarantee. Nobody.

On a gentler note, Browne casts a sympathetic eye on the disco scene in "Disco Apocalypse," the taut, touching opening out that sets the mood and marks the pace of the album: In the dawn the city seems to sigh. And the hungry hear their children cry. People watch the time go by, They do their jobs and live and die. And in their dreams they rise above By strength, or hate, or luck or love.

"Hold Out" is a well-made album featuring some of the best poetry and some of the best music to be heard on a rock recording, recent or otherwise. In fact, it's such a fine production it hardly even matters that Browne can't quite sing.