Warren Zevon

Mr. Bad Example

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After two albums that placed Warren Zevon in unexpected surroundings -- 1987's scrappy Sentimental Hygiene, which employed R.E.M. as Zevon's house band, and 1989's Transverse City, an elaborate and epic-scale depiction of a world in collapse -- 1991's Mr. Bad Example seemed like a return to familiar ground, at least at first glance. Frequent guitar foil Waddy Wachtel produced the sessions, and a number of other friends and collaborators from his salad days also popped up, including David Lindley, Jorge Calderon, Jim Keltner, and Jeff Porcaro. But if Mr. Bad Example was leaner, breezier, and more concise than the two discs that preceded it, it also carried an air of Zevon battling against the sound and style fans expected of him, and reflected the mind of an artist who had learned to pursue his own vision no matter what others expected of him. "Finishing Touches" is as bitter a kiss-off to a former lover as anyone has committed to plastic, "Model Citizen" is hardly more charitable in its depiction of an unfortunately average guy ("It's the white man's burden/And it weighs a ton"), and "Susie Lightning" and "Angel Dressed in Black" are witty but mordant commentaries on love in the '90s. However, that's not to say that Zevon is without a sense of humor; the title cut is a hilarious shaggy dog tale of one man's love affair with global irresponsibility, and "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" is worthy of its title. And while the final cut is called "Searching for a Heart," the song confirms Zevon had one that was battered but still functioning when he recorded this album. Mr. Bad Example doesn't make an immediate connection like some of Warren Zevon's best work, but the songs are well-crafted and it grows with repeated listening.

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