It’s difficult to review any compilation of Warren Zevon’s work with equanimity. He was one of the smartest songwriters of the second half of the 20th century, up there with Dylan, Springsteen, Don Henley, Randy Newman, and Jackson Browne (all of whom, except Newman, have covered Zevon’s work). And yet, most of you reading this are likely unfamiliar with him. A rare example of the rocker who was genuinely misunderstood. While his recording career spanned more than three decades, Zevon only released three albums with Artemis Records and tracks from just two of these records (2000’s Life’ll Kill Ya and Zevon’s final album The Wind) make up eight of the 13 songs on Reconsider Me: The Love Songs, with a ninth being a live version of “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” also a song from The Wind. All nine of these tracks were recorded during the last three years of Zevon’s life, and Reconsider Me offers only four selections to represent the entire 30-odd-year period prior to Zevon’s signing with Artemis.
Needless to say, this paltry sum is inadequate to display Zevon’s genius with anything approaching the depth it deserves. Many of his best love songs are nowhere to be found. “Hasten Down The Wind,” “The Hula Hula Boys,” “Suzie Lightning,” “The French Inhaler,” and Zevon’s beautiful love song to his fans, “Mutineer,” are all absent, and any record styling itself a compilation of Zevon’s love songs shouldn’t be missing those five tracks. Why did Artemis put forth such a one-dimensional offering? Is it because they couldn’t get the rights to Zevon’s earlier work? Or is it because they want to push the albums he recorded on their dime? Whatever the reason, it’s a shame. It’s also odd that there are no tracks from My Ride’s Here, Zevon’s second record for the label. Certainly “Lord Byron’s Luggage” belongs, as well as one or two others. They’d have helped add some meat to Reconsider Me‘s rather skinny 46 minutes.
The album still offers up some tasty cuts, though. The tracklisting may comprise mostly late Zevon numbers but, after all, the man never lost his edge. The selections from Life’ll Kill Ya, for example, showcase Zevon’s quintessential sardonic side. “I can saw a woman in two/But you won’t want to look in the box when I’m through/I can make love disappear/For my next trick I’ll need a volunteer,” goes the opening verse from “For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer.” On “Hostage-O,” Zevon humorously equates the emotional rigors of maintaining a relationship with being the M in an S&M session. Even the starkly weird cover of Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life” keeps you guessing: Is Zevon serious, or is he just poking fun at silly love songs?
And then there are the tracks taken from The Wind. Zevon recorded the album after being informed that he had only months to live, and the record produced some of his most heartfelt, heartrending work: “Will you stay with me till the end/When there’s nothing left but you and me/And the wind?” he sings on “Please Stay.” That song, with its doleful sax and Zevon’s plaintive vocal, could make even those with the hardest heart bust out the Kleenex.
Finally, there’s the four earlier-Zevon tracks, each representing a different album. “Accidentally, Like A Martyr” and “Tenderness On The Block,” co-written by Jackson Browne, are both enjoyable examples of Zevon’s standard take on his own personal life. “Searching For A Heart,” from Mr. Bad Example, is one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded. Not really a love song, it’s more about defining love as a concept: “I’m searching for a heart, searching everyone/They say love conquers all/You can’t start it like a car/You can’t stop it with a gun.”
So, after all this hero-worship, only three stars? ‘Fraid so. While a lot of Reconsider Me is damn good, it’s not sufficiently representative of the quality (or quantity) of Zevon’s love songs. If you’re new to Zevon’s music and/or interested in hearing more of it, this CD is not the place to start. Instead, try Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon, or, if you can afford it, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: An Anthology (both on Rhino). On the other hand, if you’re a die-hard fan, you already own most of these tracks, and the one live version of “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” while very pretty, isn’t worth your 15 bucks.