Warren Zevon – Learning to Flinch

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

Live albums are a mixed bag. When the artist plays their songs straight, it is not terribly interesting; it’s best when they alter the arrangements or otherwise do something to give fans something new. After all, it’s probably established fans who are going to be buying the album. I once saw Morrissey play a revved up version of “Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together” that was almost unrecognizable and it was alone worth the price of admission. But that’s a concert and not a live album and the two are not the same thing. I’ve gone to concerts and had amazing experiences, but if I’d listened to those same shows later on a recording, it wouldn’t have been the same. Much is lost when a show is put on tape, and I think performers tend to forget that. The other issue is song selection; as far as I’m concerned, a concert is no place for slower material. I will forgive Zevon for including ballads on here, because they’re good enough to make me reconsider my position. And in any event, this album gives all the songs new settings which enhance them.

What I Think of This Album

This is a treat for fans and a fine entry point for newcomers. Functioning as a de facto (though truncated) “Best of” album, this offering captures Zevon’s solo acoustic world tour of 1992. Nearly every song is from a different venue; appropriately, “Werewolves” is from the London show and “Roland” was recorded in Norway.

Zevon sounds energized and enthusiastic. He mostly plays twelve-string acoustic, showing off extensively on a medley of “Waltzing Matilda”/“Poor Poor Pitiful Me”/”Rose of Alabama.” More often, his dazzling piano work is on display on “Excitable Boy,” “Werewolves,” “Play It All Night Long,” “Roland,” and of course, “Piano Fighter,” and otherwise provides the melancholy backdrop to the slower songs like “The French Inhaler.” The songs benefit from the direct treatment, stripped down to just the melody and the words; this is how we are supposed to judge songwriters. “Hasten Down the Wind” has never sounded better; the self-loathing of “Splendid Isolation” is on stark display; “Searching for a Heart” gains poignancy;” and “Mr. Bad Example” revels in its unabashed depravity. There are three new songs here: “Worrier King” slithers along on a gnarly slide guitar; the at least semi-autobiographical “Piano Fighter” is a highlight; and “The Indifference of Heaven,” a somber and angry song of lost love, with references to other musicians’ romances (“Billy and Christie don’t live around here / Bruce and Patti don’t”).

The Best Thing About This Album

The version of “Excitable Boy” is pretty great.

Release Date

April, 1993

The Cover Art

Average. An in-action shot is better than a portrait, which seems to be Zevon’s default.

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