Warren Zevon

Transverse City

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Released in 1987, Sentimental Hygiene rescued Warren Zevon from record industry limbo and returned him to major-label status, but rather than return to the rough-and-ready sound of that album, he used his new corporate patronage to finance a significantly grander and darker project, 1989's Transverse City. The album features an impressive array of guest stars -- including Jerry Garcia, David Gilmour, Neil Young, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, and Benmont Tench -- but while its surface is as glossy as the albums Zevon created when he was the darling of the L.A. Mellow Mafia, the tone is as grim as anything the man ever created. Transverse City is a song cycle about a culture in collapse, in which technology has become our unfriendly master, the sky and stars have grown unfamiliar to us, conflict lurks around every corner, and our last remaining freedom is the right to spend our money. Zevon does aim for black humor here and there, most notably in the sly "Networking" and the tongue-in-cheek consumer anthem "Down at the Mall," but more typical is the dread of "Run Straight Down," the urban paranoia of "Gridlock," and the title song's celebration of a land where "life is cheap and death is free." The album's sole note of compassion is the final cut, "Nobody's in Love This Year," and even that song is a rueful meditation on a time and place where solace is a scarce commodity, and it's a fitting closer for an album that digs so deeply into the dark and bloody heart of the last days of the Reagan era. Transverse City didn't fare well at the marketplace -- no great surprise given the album's unforgiving themes -- but it deserves rediscovery as one of Warren Zevon's most ambitious and uncompromising achievements.

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