Transverse City

Warren Zevon

Virgin Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


When approaching the catalog of the late Warren Zevon, one may very well assume some CDs are more approachable than others. At first glance, Transverse City seems like it might be lighter than some of Zevon's other work, with its brightly colored cover and straightforward photo of a serious-looking and wildly-coifed Zevon.

You think so, do you? Sucker.

Transverse City is Zevon's hard-hitting analysis of where we were and where we were going at the end of the 1980s, and it's as unblinking as an autopsy and cold as January. Heavily influenced by cyberpunk and futurist speculation, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Transverse City shares the dispassion of science-fiction artists like William Gibson and Pat Cadigan. In the future of Zevon's musical vision, the world is winding down like a cheap watch and we'll all watch TV as we drown in our own industrial waste. -- where, to quote Cadigan, we are all just change for the machines.

Yet, despite the heavy rhetoric, Zevon manages to dance the razorwire tightrope over the abyss of maudlin pessimism. Nothing on (in?) Transverse City is too heavy to listen to, and there are times when it's downright perky. The production is light and uncluttered, the drum sounds particularly sharp and crisp. (I had the 24-bit digital remaster version to review, and I heartily recommend it.) Zevon's usual backing musicians, including Jorge Calderon and Waddy Wachtel, are excellent, and Zevon's guest list looks like a Rock of Roll Hall Of Fame pre-admission party -- Jerry Garcia, Chick Corea, David Gilmour, Neil Young, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, and J.D. Souther all show up at various moments.

The songs are the real element that makes Transverse City brilliant. From the opening notes of the title track, Zevon paints a picture of post-futuristic despair, his images stark, cool, and unflinching. He dabbles in straight-ahead rock ("Long Arm Of The Law"), romantic balladry ("They Moved The Moon"), and pop ("Splendid Isolation") with equal skill. "Networking" is a pun-filled tongue-in-cheek look at computerized relationships, "Gridlock" is a paean to freeway madness, and "Down In The Mall" twists a knife in the back of consumerism.

Add to that the two gems of "Run Straight Down", with its haunting descant of industrial chemicals like an indictment, and "Nobody's In Love This Year", the final statement of the death of romanticism, and Transverse City is solid, brilliant, and rueful. Days after finishing repeated listens to Transverse City, "Run Straight Down" is still caught in my head like a dirge -- or a cyberspace loop of endless news, all bad.

Do yourself a favor, and visit Transverse City. You'll be glad you did.

Rating: A

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© 2003 Duke Egbert 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 Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.