In late August of 2002, Warren Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a virulent and inoperable form of lung cancer; with his life expectancy expected to be no more than a few months, Zevon focused his dwindling energies on completing a final album, and The Wind, released a year after Zevon learned of his condition, was the result. With a back ...
In late August of 2002, Warren Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a virulent and inoperable form of lung cancer; with his life expectancy expected to be no more than a few months, Zevon focused his dwindling energies on completing a final album, and The Wind, released a year after Zevon learned of his condition, was the result. With a back story like that, it's all but impossible to ignore the subtext of Zevon's mortality while listening to The Wind, though, thankfully, he's opted not to make an album about illness or death (ironically, he already did that with 2000's Life'll Kill Ya) or create a musical last will and testament. While The Wind occasionally and obliquely touches on Zevon's illness -- most notably the mournful "Keep Me in Your Heart" and the dirty blues raunch of "Rub Me Raw" -- in many ways it sounds like a fairly typical Warren Zevon album, though of course this time out the caustic wit cuts a bit deeper, the screeds against a world gone mad sound more woeful, and the love songs suggest higher emotional stakes than before. The Wind also lays in a higher compliment of celebrity guest stars than usual, and while obviously a lot of these folks are old friends wanting to help a pal in need, in some cases the ringers help to carry the weight for Zevon, who, while in good voice, can't summon up the power he did in his salad days. And remarkably, the trick works on several cuts; Bruce Springsteen's rollicking guest vocal on "Disorder in the House" offers just the kick the tune needed, Tom Petty's laid-back smirk brings a sleazy undertow to "The Rest of the Night," and Dwight Yoakam's harmonies on "Dirty Life and Times" are the perfect touch for the tune. In terms of material, The Wind isn't a great Zevon album, but it's a pretty good one; "El Amour de Mi Vida" is a simple but affecting look at lost love, "Prison Grove" is a superior character piece about life behind bars, and "Numb as a Statue," "Disorder in the House," and "Dirty Life and Times" prove the prospect of imminent death hasn't alleviated Zevon's cynicism in the least. (It's hard to say if he's being sincere or darkly witty with his cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," though he manages to make it work both ways.) And the assembled musicians -- among them Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, and Jim Keltner -- serve up their best licks without taking the show away from Zevon, who, despite his obvious weakness, firmly commands the spotlight. The Wind feels less like a grand final statement of Warren Zevon's career than one last walk around the field, with the star nodding to his pals, offering a last look at what he does best, and quietly but firmly leaving listeners convinced that he exits the game with no shame and no regrets. Which, all in all, is a pretty good way to remember the guy. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi