Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya

Barney Hoskyns

By Barney Hoskyns

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Like most of those SoCal peers, Warren Zevon floundered in the '80s, a decade that was unkind even to singer-songwriters as august as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Despite the endorsement of fans from R.E.M. to crime novelist Carl Hiassen, not even hard-won sobriety could steer his career back on track.

The beginning of Zevon’s last great creative burst.

Acting on a nudge from Jackson Browne, Artemis 'Danny Goldberg came to the rescue in 2000, just as Zevon was scuffling between demoralizing tours and the shabbier end of the corporate-gig market. Goldberg quickly saw the quality of the songs for Life'll Kill Ya, with their prescient investigations of death, disease and self-destruction, and paired him with grunge producers Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade.

As a comeback it more than stands up next to his '70s albums, full as it is of rich riffs and acerbic couplets that clutch at Zevon's dark view of human existence. From the unplugged thunder of the Bruce-ish "I Was in the House When the House Burned Down" to the uncanny (and blackly funny) premonition that is "My Shit's Fucked Up," Life'll Kill Ya never flinches from a kind of exhausted despair. "If I have a philosophy," Warren once said, "it's that life is a very rough deal, a very unforgiving game, but people kind of do the best they can."