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Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy (Asylum/Mobile Fidelity)

22 January 2024
Warren Zevon’s 1978 album Excitable Boy is sensibly regarded as one the best-written and best-played albums in pop music. The collection of what collaborator Jackson Browne referred to as “song noir” reached the US top ten and produced campy #21 single “Werewolves of London.” The beloved album brims with several of Zevon’s most celebrated songs and boasts a who’s who of elite Hollywood session players. The album is now reissued in spectacular fashion on this 2xLP vinyl edition from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, cut at 45 RPM for maximum detail. The album arrives in a numbered edition on heavyweight vinyl inside a gatefold sleeve with liner notes and lyrics.

In addition to the wry “Werewolves of London,” other familiar tracks maintain their bite. The title cut with its rollicking piano is a predecessor to tracks like Oingo Boingo’s “Only a Lad,” telling the tale of a disturbed character who is given chance after chance to wreak havoc with inadequate attention to either his mental health or danger to society. The subtext is that the boy’s character is excused when so many others would be locked up for keeps upon the first infraction. The strident “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” is a murderous tale of mercenaries at war, government interference abroad, genocide, betrayal, and ghostly revenge. Cold War tale “Lawyers, Guns and Money” finds a privileged son begging dear daddy to bail him out of his misadventures in Havana before fleeing to Honduras to hide out. “Send lawyers, guns, and money,” sings the desperado with only himself and his indiscretions to blame. “The shit has hit the fan.”

There isn’t a weak cut among the nine tracks on the album, and other artists took notice. Shawn Colvin made an acoustic guitar-led single in 1992 of bittersweet coming-of-age song “Tenderness on the Block,” co-written by Zevon and Browne. Even less-recognized tracks including the jilted “Accidentally Like a Martyr” are elevated by skilled session work from guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Leland Sklar, and drummer Russ Kunkel. Names of equal stature including Linda Ronstadt, Bob Glaub, John McVie, Rick Marotta, and Jeff Porcaro deliver the goods on the remaining tracks. All of the musicians are led on songs including the deceptively upbeat “Johnny Strikes Up the Band” by Zevon’s sparkling and assured piano.

Mobile Fidelity’s remastering does indeed eclipse the sound available from an old-school copy of Excitable Boy. The vinyl is impressively quiet, and the album leaps with clarity, detail, and body. Audiophile fans of the original work will consider this a must-have reissue. (