Learning To Flinch
Giant Records, 1993
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/07/1997
To the uneducated like myself, Warren Zevon is a one-hit wonder. His hit "Werewolves Of London" will probably be the song that will define his career.
When Zevon released Learning To Flinch, his second live album, I barely stifled a yawn. I had barely made it through his last effort at the time, Mr. Bad Example, and wasn't ready for another disappointment.
I don't know what made me finally add Learning To Flinch to the now-famous Pierce Memorial Archives (admission price slightly lower than Disneyland), but what I heard blew me away. This was an album by a man who was out to prove that he was a songwriter, and a damn good one at that.
Armed only with an acoustic guitar and piano, Zevon plows through over an hour of old and new material recorded around the world in the most intimate setting possible. From the comfort of your living room, you feel like you're watching Zevon in the front row - and you're in for one hell of a show.
Zevon opens with "Spendid Isolation," showing off his skill on the 12-string guitar. His vocals are in top form, and it almost sounds like the solo performances relaxed him - these performances are flawless. Kicking into "Lawyers, Guns And Money" (a song I discovered when I played the wrong side of a 45 on a college jukebox), Zevon puts a whole new spin on an already dark song, but manages to pull it off.
Even "Mr. Bad Example" takes on a whole new light on this album - Zevon almost turns it into a party anthem and makes it quite listenable. But Zevon's songs aren't all lighthearted little ditties. Cuts like "The French Inhaler," "Hasten Down The Wind," "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" and "The Indifference Of Heaven" show off a different side of Zevon, one of a prolific songwriter. (To the uneducated like myself, it is a side we never had the chancce to see from the shadow of the hit single.)
Let's take "Boom Boom Mancini" as an example: what could have been a song about a has-been boxer (best remembered as the last fighter Duk Koo Kim faced before Kim's death in the ring) is given a very human touch. Zevon re-creates the feeling of Mancini's glory days, when people would rush home to watch Mancini fight. And Zevon manages to put a positive spin on Mancini's part in Kim's death. (Zevon's guitar work at one point made my jaw fall into my lap - god damn, what a riff he played!)
The show wouldn't be complete without a performance of "Werewolves Of London" - and even that sounds like it got a fresh coat of paint thanks to Zevon's delivery of the lyrics.
While Learning To Flinch may not be a substitute for a greatest hits collection, it's the perfect place for the uneducated like myself to start learning how talented Zevon is. I sure learned my lesson - there are now many more of his albums gracing the walls of the Archives. Pick this one up - it's an education worth having.