Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School

Warren Zevon

Asylum Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/03/1999

How does one follow up a hit that defined a career? For Warren Zevon, that was the question he had to face in 1980. He had opened people's eyes to his work thanks to "Warewolves Of London" on Excitable Boy, his 1978 album. What would he do for an encore?

The answer, Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, left more questions than answers. Moving away from a "top 40" style, Zevon hunkered down with a string section and the usual cast of celebrities, including Linda Ronstadt, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and - as a songwriter, not a performer - Bruce Springsteen.nbtc__dv_250

It was a risky gamble, to say the least, and for Zevon, it didn't pay off in the dividends one would have hoped for. There are a few numbers that have a catchy hook to them, but many others will leave you wondering if this is the same artist that wowed them just two years prior.

Zevon - a songwriter not exactly known for a happy-go-lucky demeanor - seems to take a trip to an even darker side on some of the tracks. Through the songs of lost love ("Empty-Handed Heart" and the title track) and the tales of trying to find hope where there may be none ("Bed Of Coals"), Zevon dares to bring the listener on a voyage that doesn't suggest a happy ending.

Musically, Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School runs aground by moving away from a radio-friendly atmosphere. Granted, songs like "Lawyers, Guns And Money" and "Excitable Boy" aren't exactly "top-of-the-pops" tracks at first glance, but at least they had a beat that caught the listener's ear and kept them hooked throughout the song. On this album, such a beat isn't present as often as one would like. "Jeannie Needs A Shooter," co-written with Springsteen, does fall into this category.

At times, it also seems like Zevon is pushing himself to write songs in the mode of the sarcastic clown. "Gorilla, You're A Desperado" is an example of this, a song that I'm sure was written with good intentions, but ends up sounding forced. A better example (if a less pop-friendly number) is "Play It All Night Long", a song which does have some disturbing images - which I think was Zevon's point all along.

In a sense, it's almost like Zevon was thumbing his nose at the success he enjoyed with Excitable Boy, and wanted to create an album that was as far removed from that vein as possible. In that manner, he succeeded - but what a price to pay.

Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School is an album that can be called a "for the fans" disc, and regrettably might have left people wondering if Zevon was a one-hit wonder. Unfortunately, this album does nothing to remove that suggestion.

Rating: C

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Asylum Records, and is used for informational purposes only.