Warren Zevon

Life'll Kill Ya

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Conventional wisdom has it that rock & roll is the aural embodiment of youth culture, but as more artists who've devoted their lives to playing the stuff grow older, they've struggled to reconcile maturity with the recklessness of the music. No surprise, then, that few if any have had the courage to do what Warren Zevon did with his 2000 set Life'll Kill Ya -- create a concept album about aging, disease, decay and ultimately death. "My Shit's Fucked Up" and the title tune are bleakly witty but unblinking glimpses into the abyss of mortality, "Don't Let Us Get Sick" is a sadly hopeful prayer against the inevitable, "Porcelain Monkey" chronicles Elvis Presley's long slide into fatal irrelevance, and the cover of Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life Again" transforms the song into a picture of a man struggling to convince himself he's going to get out alive. Given its dominant themes, Life'll Kill Ya is surprisingly light hearted; while Zevon seems to regard our long, slow march towards fate as some sort of joke, it's clear that he thinks the joke is pretty funny, and the performances are confident and fully engaged, a pleasant surprise after 1995's lackluster Mutineer. While Zevon handles most of the instrumentation, he had the good sense to bring in a rhythm section rather than letting synthesizers do the work, and Jorge Calderon and Winston Watson bring a human heartbeat to this music that counters the sometimes gloomy outlook. The sad irony is that two years after making Life'll Kill Ya, Warren Zevon would be diagnosed with an inoperable case of mesothelioma that would claim his life in the fall of 2003, but the album's themes ring even truer given the artist's fate -- Zevon was too bright a man to not know that Death was lurking somewhere, and on Life'll Kill Ya, he sure doesn't welcome him but is able to greet him with a smile and a handshake despite it all.

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