First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
Despite his many affiliations within Los Angelesí session scene, Warren Zevon was a struggling songwriter who was going nowhere in a hurry when his pal Jackson Browne convinced Asylum Records to take a chance on signing him. Fortunately, by that point, Wanted Dead or Alive, Zevonís forgettable flop of a debut from 1969, had become a distant memory, and sitting at his disposal was a batch of considerably superior material. With Browne at the helm, Zevon gave birth to a pair of albums ó his self-titled endeavor and its follow-up Excitable Boy. Taken together, they gave him the means, for better or for worse, to live a rock Ďní roll lifestyle, at least temporarily. Admittedly, 30 years after the fact, both collections sound a tad dated, forever tethered to the í70s by the sort of glossy sheen that typically was affixed to singer/songwriter efforts from the era. Still, thereís no denying the potency of Zevonís formula, which refreshingly injected a twist of biting satire into the more romantic inclinations of his peers.
Although it was, in actuality, Zevonís third endeavor, Excitable Boy had the look and the feel of a sophomore effort. By Browneís own admission, the collection was constructed from its predecessorís spare parts, and although they were exquisite specimens ó both Werewolves of London and the title track had been set aside and saved ó the fact remains that there was less unity amongst the setís contents. Nevertheless, itís hard to quibble with the songs themselves. Hereís an indication of Excitable Boyís strength: Six of its nine tracks were redeployed to form the basis of Zevonís greatest hits retrospective A Quiet Normal Life. Of the remaining cuts, only the deliciously funky, but ultimately lightweight Nighttime in the Switching Yard could be considered filler. The other two selections ó Tenderness on the Blockís gently optimistic message from a father to his daughter and Veracruzís mournful depiction of the casualties of American imperialism ó are equally worthy contenders.
Thatís quite a testament to Zevonís capabilities, especially considering that the rest of Excitable Boy was filled with his widely recognized tales of a predatory ladiesí man (Werewolves of London), a vengeance-seeking vigilante (Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner), a self-destructive antihero (Lawyers, Guns and Money), and a battered, bruised, and ultimately doomed relationship (Accidentally Like a Martyr). Although his later efforts undeniably contained a more cohesive narrative ó a product of the maturity that middle age brings as well as the focus that arrived once he overcame his dependence upon alcohol ó it arguably is difficult to find a more iconic collection of songs within his canon. Recently reissued with a quartet of bonus tracks ó including a haunting rendition of Tuleís Blues (a personal account of the dissolution of his marriage) and the string-draped Frozen Notes (an equally sad reflection upon lost love and loneliness) ó Excitable Boy still stands, in spite of its flaws, as strongly, proudly, and defiantly as it ever has.
Excitable Boy is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box