CK Retro Review: Mutineer by Warren Zevon

1995’s Mutineer is a fascinating entry in the Warren Zevon catalog. It’s a series of mostly slower, often contemplative songs. Zevon dials back the wisecracking (for the most part) and gets to the heart of the matter, emphasis on heart. He also takes some interesting musical risks, and though they don’t all pay off, the ones that do are revelatory. Some pedestrian rockers that are haphazardly thrown in really only break the spell; this one is at its best when it’s at its dreamiest. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “Rottweiler Blues”- The author Carl Hiassen helps out with the lyrics here about a particularly ferocious guard dog and his ornery owner. Too bad nobody bothered to do much with the squawking rock arrangement.

9. “Seminole Bingo”- The other song co-written with Hiassen takes place in the author’s Florida haunts, depicting a scam artist on the run from the SEC. The story never really ignites, although Zevon gets in some ferocious guitar licks toward the end.

THREE STARS

8. “Piano Fighter”- In typically idiosyncratic Zevonian fashion, this tale of a have-piano, will-travel outlaw features very little ivory-tickling. In fact, the production gets a bit too wild for its own good. But I do love the idea of Zevon as a musical gunfighter.

7. “Something Bad Happened To A Clown”- Zevon once sang of a “running-down calliope”, which is a good approximation of the sound of this oddity. Bruce Hornsby chips in with an evocative accordion part. Zevon’s lyrics don’t really go much further than the old tears-of-a-clown cliche, but the off-kilter mood is sustained quite well.

6. “Poisonous Lookalike”- A rather rancorous dressing down of a deceptive lover, this one possesses enough minor-key potency to get by all right. In a similar vein as Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” but with a bit more bile.

5. “Similar To Rain”- Zevon cops a Brian Wilson Smile vibe here, with dissonant sounds fluttering at the edges of an ethereal musical landscape. The lyrics are a bit of an afterthought; just drift along with the strangely stirring music and you’ll do fine.

4. “Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse”- This one has the same stately, medieval feel as “The Indifference Of Heaven.” Zevon seems to be targeting the kind of lifeless gatherings of the affluent that he’s nailed before. This one is best enjoyed for its sprightly melody and the fun refrain.

FOUR STARS

3. “Jesus Was A Crossmaker”- Judee Sill, like Zevon, came from the Laurel Canyon scene in the late 60’s and the early 70’s and was one of David Geffen’s first discoveries. Unfortunately, her career sputtered and she died at age 35 in 1979. Zevon does her wonderful tribute with this elegiac version of her first single. Hornsby’s accordion bed breaks all falls, and Warren does the sweet but sad melody tender justice.

FIVE STARS

2. “Mutineer”- Zevon performed this in unforgettable fashion in his last appearance on David Letterman before his death, and anyone who saw that could tell that this was a personal song for him. The hazy synths conjure a nautical feel, albeit with a touch of melancholy. His wistful lyrics admit to his rebellious tendencies but also project heaping helpings of vulnerability. Bring your hankie.

1. “The Indifference Of Heaven”- It’s all well and good to look at the bright side, but sometimes a dose of dour reality is necessary. The narrator, a down on his luck yet poetic convenience store worker, takes umbrage here with both God and the Boss, an empty horizon yawning in front of him. And yet a kind of grace is bestowed upon him by the acoustic sheen of the music and Peter Asher’s benevolent harmonies. What a wonderful juxtaposition of lyrical theme and musical tone.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238


Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Don’t Answer Me” by The Alan Parsons Project

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer is telling the kids about various rock and roll bands from his younger days. When he gets to The Alan Parsons Project, he confuses the band for a hovercraft. It’s typically clever Simpsons banter, but the line also wasn’t entirely inaccurate. Started by Parsons, famed for his production and engineering work with The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and composer Eric Woolfson, the APP often seemed to be hovering above the rock scene, delivering synthesizer-fueled missives about robots and Edgar Allan Poe.

Yet every once in a while they would alight and deliver tuneful, catchy, and poignant singles apart from the song suites and studio wizardry. “Eye In The Sky” was the biggest of those. “Time”, which could certainly be a future Weeper candidate, was a beauty. I think my personal favorite though is “Don’t Answer Me”, which rolled into the Top 20 in the ultra-competitive pop landscape of 1984.

Like a lot of people, I feel in love with the video, a kind of comic-book noir that was groundbreaking then and still looks wonderful today. The video actually lends the song a happy ending, something that doesn’t quite come across without the visual. The retro clip does nicely dovetail with the sound of the record though, as Parsons copped a vintage Phil Spector vibe right down to the castanets.

Meanwhile Woolfson sings to a girl who’s pulling away from the world, living in dreams and magic instead of facing the reality of the situation or her true feelings. He gives up in the chorus, daring her to isolate herself at the expense of everything they had built. Nick and Sugar may drive off underneath a benevolent moon in the video, but the hero and heroine don’t complete the fairytale in the song because “clouds got in the way.” Damn clouds.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

 


CK Retro Review: Mr. Bad Example by Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon kicked off the 90’s in fierce, funny fashion with 1991’s Mr. Bad Example. The harder rockers on the album detail a litany of evils, related by characters who don’t show an ounce of remorse. It would all be overbearing were it not for Zevon’s inimitable talent for molding this dark stuff for public consumption. And he balances it out very well with occasional glimpses of the softer side, making this a fine return to form after the ambitious but awry Transverse City.

TWO STARS

10. “Angel Dressed In Black”- This one is maybe a little too twisted for even Zevon to pull off. The drug-addled narrator waits at home for the title character’s return, and you just know that her return won’t end well. Coming right after “Model Citizen”, it might make you beg for mercy. Still, I can’t help but laugh to consider that the final verse’s opening couplet consists solely of the words “Sofa” and “Crack.”

THREE STARS

9. “Quite Ugly Morning”- It’s an interesting grinder, even if it lacks some of the details that characterize Zevon’s best work. I do like his description of the sky as “kinda chewed-on like.”

8. “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead”- I vaguely recall watching the movie on VHS when it came out, because I simply had to watch anything with Christopher Walken in it back then. The song is a fun lark, hooky with chirpy organ and a good groove, name-dropping a couple of Zevon’s musical buddies LeRoy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel along the way.

7. “Searching For A Heart”- The closer suffers a little bit from production fussiness, but it gets by ultimately on Zevon’s emotional performance. The “heart” for which he seeks doesn’t seem to be one that he’s already met, rather an ideal that gets farther away with each weary mile he travels.

6. “Finishing Touches”- Nothing fancy here, just Zevon’s bile directed intensely at a former lover. Then again, very few are better at directing bile, and the music is tough if not inventive. It’s not for the meek of heart and it’s a rather harsh way to start an album, but it’s well done nonetheless.

FOUR STARS

5. “Renegade”- When Tom Petty wrote “Southern Accents”, he did so from the point of view of an actual Southerner. Zevon attempts something similar, and you’d never know that he was actually a West Coaster by the seething contempt and wounded pride he conjures. “Next time I’d rather break than bend,” he snarls toward the end over the stately drums, the perfect words to sum up this guy’s head-space.

4. “Model Citizen”- This one sneaks up on you, a seemingly straightforward rocker about conformity that gets blacker as you go. If the weirdo from “Excitable Boy” had repressed his sinister urges and become a family man, you’d get this guy. Cuckolded by his wife and neutered by his place in society, he acts out by stalking supermarkets, threatening his kids with a lathe, and, finally, driving his motor home into a lake. Funny and scary all at once.

3. “Heartache Spoken Here”- Zevon glides easily into this C&W setting, with the help of Dwight Yoakam’s aching harmonies. It’s a fine example of his dexterity as a songwriter, showing the Nashville boys how it’s done with effortlessness and grace. Makes you wish he had the time to do a country album in his lifetime, but there’s a lot of things we missed out on due to his untimely passing.

2. “Mr. Bad Example”- Part of me wants to say that Zevon veered perilously close to caricature on this album, with this track being Exhibit A. And yet it’s hard to resist the articulate anarchy of this deranged polka, co-written with old buddy Jorge Calderon. Plus it’s easy to write a sad song, but very few artists could do out-and-out funny like Warren, which he does here by rhyming “Spokane” and “divan”, subtly implying that the only possible outcome for this inveterate do-badder was law school, and imagining novel methods of larceny, from hair transplants to wig-stealing. And it takes us around the world too.

FIVE STARS

1. “Susie Lightning”- First of all, the psychedelic, weightless tone of the music is lovely, with Zevon taking the edge out of voice to fit the setting perfectly, singing that melody with wonder and sadness intermingled. It begins as a character sketch of an elusive, globetrotting actress, but it slowly reveals almost as much about the narrator as the title character, his struggles to go on without her, his slow but steady implosion. It’s a kind of out-of-nowhere track that stands apart from much of Zevon’s work and especially from the rest of the album, but, man, is it a beauty.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238