THE STRING QUARTET TRIBUTE TO WARREN ZEVON
Dad, get me out of this!
The phenomenon of the string tribute to various artists from various genres earned my approval the instant I heard of it in October 2002. I had a thirst from the first for the employment of classical string instruments in modern musical performance, and while I know not all music will translate well onto this old medium, I thought surely Warren Zevon would. When a friend of mine dropped this disk in my lap, I leapt for joy on the inside--on the outside, hay fever restrained me. However, when I listened to it at the first opportunity on the next day, I felt bitter disappointment.
But the blame falls not on the excitable boy himself, but on David Davidson and Todd Mark Rubenstein, the musicians responsible for this CD. Their mistake lies not in their handling of the material, but the material they selected to handle. Of Zevon's many wonderful pieces, they selected ten of the most strophically organized compositions which make for boring instrumentation unless vocally accompanied.
The string tributes to Tool (Third Eye Open and vol. 2: Metamorphic)--my only other experience with albums of this nature, for my lust is lazy and poor--worked because Tool's instrumentation is highly dynamic with many thematic changes throughout their songs. Warren Zevon also produced songs that did not follow unitary repetition (A-A-A), but were through-composed. Songs such as The French Inhaler, Mohammed's Radio, Desperados under the Eaves, Run Straight Down, Things to do in Denver When You're Dead, Worrier King (if they could somehow duplicate the steel guitar effect on Learning to Flinch), My Shit's Fucked Up, Genius, Dirty Life and Times, Prison Grove, or Rub Me Raw would have been perfect for translation because they are either through composed or vary on some pattern of A-B, A-B-A, or A-A-B. The musicians themselves could have taken license with the material and inflected their playing with some of the emotion Zevon's lyrics evoke. As it is, the music, being so steadfastly repetitious, is just not very interesting. If I didn't know the songs they selected for this album, I wouldn't have made it through all the tracks.
- Poor, Poor Pitiful Me First violin takes over for vocals while the other instruments play bland, bland rhythm any monkey could play.
- Werewolves of London First violin again plays vocal stand-in, often at so high a pitch that progression is difficult to detect, but that's just my prejudice against high ranges; Rubenstein again plays rhythm on the other instruments, though with greater skill. An interlude makes this track slightly more interesting, but the static rhythm and whiney quality of the violin lends a tedious quality to its sound.
- Detox Mansion A more interesting track that involves greater variation on the instruments, particularly in the opening.
- Excitable Boy Similar quality to the first track, but with a more complex rhythm on the secondary instruments. The first violin again follows the vocals, and between "stanzas," a more distant-sounding violin repeats the "stanza," which is interesting. Still, the rhythm gets annoying.
- I'll Sleep When I'm Dead Fails to capture the energy of Zevon's cut.
- Hasten Down the Wind Fails to capture the longing of Zevon's cut. Fails, fails miserably. Otherwise, a good track.
- I Was in the House When the House Burned Down Again lacks Zevon's energy. This is one instance where I would've preferred a more piercing sound.
- Keep Me in Your Heart I suppose this track was obligatory on a tribute album so recently a departed artist. I will say only that the tributors ougth to have found something better for the accompanying parts to do than repeat the damn rhythm. It's just unimaginative and frustrating. The first violin and what sounds like a second violin are marvelous.
- Lawyers Guns and Money This song is all about the lyrics anyway... pure instrumental, with that shitty walking bass... Ugh...
- Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner How could anyone possibly fuck up Roland? If it weren't already on the CD, I would've included it in my list of suggested songs. Unfortunately, Davidson and Rubenstein's production sucks the epic feeling out of the song. It sounds thin and superficial compared to the resonating quality of Zevon's ballad iterated by the man himself.
I'm glad someone attempted this album, and I hope someone else tries again with a little more imagination, but I'm even more glad I didn't purchase this myself. The stubborn misuse of bass and viola (I assume, as no instrumentation is listed on the insert, cover, or back of the jewel case) for repetitious rhythm purposes spoils most of the songs. I get the feeling these two rushed the ablum. Better luck next time, boys.
To quote from the back: "Warren always sang about life the way he saw it: bleak, violent, tender and funny. This string tribute honors Warren Zevon's unique and influential talent." No, it doesn't. And I don't care what the latest convention is: a comma must preceed the last item in a series!
Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for awhile
If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile
--Warren Zevon, Keep Me in Your Heart