Recommended Albums #45


Warren Zevon: Sentimental Hygiene (1987)

Even the most rabid Warren Zevon fan would admit “Werewolves of London” was a fluke–an unlikely intersection of eccentricity and mass appeal that in large part came down to a hook comprised of a simulated werewolf’s howl.

Excepting this one-off that’s become a Halloween perennial, Zevon’s sardonic, often bizarre lyrical bent has ensured his status as cult figure, albeit a very well-connected one. One of his musical friends, Jackson Browne, produced Zevon’s second album, which featured two more, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks–with whom Zevon had shared a house a couple years earlier–as well as several members of the Eagles and Bonnie Raitt. The Warren Zevon album, though a critical success, was all but ignored by the public. Fellow Californian Linda Ronstadt was hip, though: she covered no fewer than three of the album’s tunes, including hit single “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”.

Excitable Boy, Zevon’s only top ten album, followed in 1978, its sales spurred by the success of the aforementioned “Werewolves”. But for most of the next decade, alcohol addiction somewhat derailed his career; he only managed to release two studio and one live album during that span.

Finally in 1987 a clean and sober Warren Zevon proved what he was capable of with all cylinders firing. With Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry of R.E.M. on board, and guest appearances from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Don Henley, George Clinton, Flea, Brian Setzer and more, Zevon unleashed his most focused and best work since Excitable Boy.

This album was my introduction to Zevon, and it’s a fine how-do-you-do indeed. While it was his most radio-ready album in ten years, its populist tendencies did not come at the sacrifice of Zevon’s wry wit. Even the touching “The Heartache”, which speaks of the risks of falling in love, is pure Zevon:

Shadows falling in the noonday sun/Blue feeling to the maximum

Listen for Neil Young’s soloing on the title track–it’s unmistakable “Like a Hurricane”-style Neil.

If you’re interested but unfamiliar with the Warren Zevon catalog, this superb album is a perfect place to start. And if your appraisal of his work is largely based on “Werewolves of London”, take him up on his proposition to “Reconsider Me”.

Listen to: “Sentimental Hygiene”

Listen to: “Boom Boom Mancini”

Listen to: “Trouble Waiting to Happen”

Listen to: “Reconsider Me”

Don’t miss: “Even a Dog Can Shake Hands”

Listen to: “The Heartache”

See also:

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