When the great list of untimely rock ‘n’ roll deaths is written, perhaps none of them will have been as well prepared for as that of Warren Zevon. When the excitable boy eventually succumbed to mesothelioma at age 56, his death wasn’t shocking so much as it was the end to one of his sadder songs.
Perhaps even more upsetting than his death was that Zevon seemed to soften at the end, trading his trademark sarcasm to wax philosophical about the joys of life. The news of his impending death was unsettling, but to see him publicly shaken by it while making his last rounds was somehow even worse. Though he received good notices for 2003’s The Wind, it wasn’t the same man who’d spent his entire career exploring the underbelly of Los Angeles and embracing its go-fast-worry-later lifestyle. The Grammy awards and mea culpa didn’t matter; the real Zevon is unquestionably a creature of the ’70s.
Keeping this part of him alive is what makes the reissue of his eponymous debut invaluable. The eleven songs here are remastered for quality and packaged with a bonus disc of outtakes, rarities and demos, all previously unreleased. Though the album contains favorites such as “The French Inhaler,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” Warren Zevon is overshadowed by his breakthrough, Excitable Boy, and deserves a fresh listen. Given the production value, the songs sound as if they have been recorded as a part of indie’s ’70s-revival movement.
Even without the aid of the technology, the songs would shine. Zevon was an excellent songwriter, and Warren Zevon captures him at a time in his life when the whole world was stretched out before him. Given that the end of the story has been written, it’s pretty hard to listen to these songs. Once the guitar line of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” kicks in, though, the feeling fades. This is vintage Zevon, and it’s the way to remember to him.