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Excitable Boy (1978)

Warren Zevon

... read moreWarren Zevon's self-titled 1976 album announced he was one of the most striking talents to emerge from the Los Angeles soft rock singer/songwriter community, and Linda Ronstadt (a shrewd judge of talent if a sometimes questionable interpreter) recorded three of its songs on two of her...

Review

Warren Zevon's self-titled 1976 album announced he was one of the most striking talents to emerge from the Los Angeles soft rock singer/songwriter community, and Linda Ronstadt (a shrewd judge of talent if a sometimes questionable interpreter) recorded three of its songs on two of her biggest-selling albums, which doubtlessly earned Zevon bigger royalty checks than the album itself ever did. But if Warren Zevon was an impressive calling card, the follow-up, Excitable Boy, was an actual hit, scoring one major hit single, "Werewolves of London," and a trio of turntable hits ("Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," "Lawyers, Guns and Money," and the title track). But while Excitable Boy won Zevon the larger audience his music certainly deserved, the truth is it was a markedly inferior album; while it had all the bile of Warren Zevon, and significantly raised Zevon's dark-humor factor, it was often obvious where his previous album had been subtle, and while all 11 tracks on Warren Zevon were strong and compelling, two of the nine tunes on Excitable Boy -- "Johnny Strike Up the Band" and "Nighttime in the Switching Yard" -- sound like they're just taking up space. Musically, most of Excitable Boy is stuck in a polished but unexceptional FM pop groove, and only "Veracruz" hints at the artful intelligence of Warren Zevon's finest moments. It's hard to say if Zevon was feeling uninspired or just dumbing himself down when he made Excitable Boy, but while it made him famous, it lacks the smarts and substance of his best work. [Rhino Records gave Excitable Boy an overhaul for their 2007 remastered reissue. The new edition includes an appreciative liner essay from David Fricke and four bonus tracks. "I Need a Truck" is a revealing a cappella fragment about his myriad burdens and addictions, while "Tule's Blues" and "Frozen Notes" are lovely low-key numbers that would have fit right in on Warren Zevon, the latter featuring a beautiful string arrangement from the songwriter. There's also a ragged, stripped-down early take of "Werewolves of London" which has a lot more energy than the cut that made the album, if a lot less precision. The new mastering also improves the album's sonics, and this edition represents a genuine improvement over the previous CD edition, if the album's creative flaws remain.] ~ Mark Deming

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