Dancing In The Dark
Fate decided it should be the sound of The Eagles which travelled around the world and defined the popular clichés of 1970s California, but Warren Zevon's version was far more bleak, hilarious and penetrating. The son of a gangster and a gambler, Zevon crashed through the plate-glass of fame in 1978 with his album Excitable Boy, featuring his one and only hit single, "Werewolves Of London", but the idea of Zevon as mainstream rock star was always preposterous.
He knew it too, and he spent the next two-and-a-half decades investigating whether 'The Song' was an appropriate forum for reflections on fine art, literature, politics, weird sex and murder. Most of the time, he proved that it was.
Released after the world heard the news that Zevon was suffering from inoperable cancer, Genius is inevitably surrounded by an aura of gloom and morbid predestination. But he had been singing about all kinds of bedlam and mayhem for years, as several of the songs here illustrate. "Fingers on their triggers/Knee-deep in gore," he rasps in "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner", while "Excitable Boy" is the ripping yarn of a murderer, rapist and grave-robber. "Detox Mansion" is wholly self-explanatory. How ironic that the cream of the West Coast elite, from Linda Ronstadt to Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, were so eager to sing on or cover songs seemingly designed to hasten California's slide into the Pacific Ocean.
Poignant timing aside, the raison d'être of Genius is none too clear. A mere single disc, it doesn't do anything not already done at twice the length by the splendid 1996 compilation I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, which also featured the author's droll track-by-track commentary alongside quotes from friends and collaborators. Missing, sadly, are such paragons of Zevonism as "Sentimental Hygiene" or the searingly prescient "The Envoy" ("Nuclear arms in the Middle East/Israel's attacking the Iraqis").
However, since every track on Genius is worth at least two of almost anybody else's, it can only be welcomed. Last word to Warren, from "Mr Bad Example": "I'll see you in the next life/Wake me up for meals."
Rating: 4 / 10