Tim Brough | Springfield, PA United States | 09/19/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There were, for a time, stories that Warren Zevon was working on a concerto for strings. If there was, we are sadly unlikely to ever hear it. But snippets from it appeared on his third Elektra/Asylum album, "Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School." Given a taste of rockdom via the surprise success of "Werewolves Of London," his ambition soared along with his excessive living. So the album opens with both beauty and brutality, a crescendo of strings ending with a pair of gunshots. And so it goes throughout the album, as Warren weaves tales of betrayal in "Jeannie Needs a Shooter" (I always wondered what Springsteen's version of this song would've sounded like), heartache with Linda Ronstadt on the gorgeous "Empty Handed Heart" and a sublimely funny look at the Los Angeles life as he trades places with "Gorilla You're a Desperado," and the monkey ends up in "Transactional Analysis."As with his previous two albums, the playing is top drawer. It always amazed me that Zevon could take the usual stable of LA's Mellow Mafia and make them sound tough. The cover of "A Certain Girl" all but leers from force, with the call and response of "What's her name? I can't tell you!" taking on a near psychotic energy by the song's end. Zevon's literary humor is in fine form as he describes the mercs of "Jungle Work." It is a subtle prankster who can pair lines like "We parachute in, we parachute out" without going after a sledgehammer to pulverize the joke, but he manages to do exactly that.The album's last two songs were the "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School's" finest moments. "Bed Of Coals" and "Wild Age" are Zevon's most mature songs to that point. As a lover watches his life collapse, he realizes that he can't be a reckless child anymore, and immediately follows with the longing of "Wild Age," which fades out with The Eagles smooth harmonies and Zevon's desperate, joyous yelping for a time that he knows is no longer there. It cemented Warren's reputation as a songwriter of unflinching emotional capability."
David A. Dawson | Decatur, Illinois | 04/29/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Warren Zevon is one of the most overlooked musicians of the past 20 years. His song writing is top-rate and his choice of musicians to accompany him are excellent. Many know him solely for Werewolves of London, which is a great song, but just one of many great Zevon songs. I've always felt this was one of Zevon's best albums, something that has been overlooked over the years. For those who can appreciate Zevon's view of the world and its ultimate absurdity, this album is a don't miss."
A sociopath with a heart of gold
dev1 | Baltimore | 03/17/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Warren Zevon is back with another successful addition to his quirky but solid rock'n'roll output. Exploring `boy meets girl' is the common subject for popular music, but Zevon adds his personal bent. Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School is more like `boy with a gun in his pocket meets girl.' Hey, he may be a sociopath, but he's sociopath with a heart of gold. On the inside cover is a photograph of a Mack-10 with spent cartridges and an empty pair of ballet shoes lying on the floor. Death and beauty.In the opening cut (Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School) Zevon promises to end his wicked ways and fly straight. The remaining eleven compositions break his promise. Mercenaries cause mayhem in `Jungle Work,' `Play It All Night Long' cures all the world's ills with loud music, and Zevon loses his girl to a hairy bully in `Gorilla, You're A Desperado.' Of course, all the songs were not written by the patients of `One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.' Warren Zevon and Linda Ronstadt are beautiful and romantic in `Empty-Handed Heart.'Bad Luck Streak is backed by Elektra's killer session band including David Lindley, Rick Marrota and Waddy Wachtel. Usually heard on releases by Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt, Zevon lets then cut loose. Top pick: "Wild Age' is one of the best teen anthems of the 1980's."
Reading the book? Buying the reissues? Don't overlook "Bad L
John Stodder | livin' just enough | 05/06/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tracing Warren Zevon's career from his self-titled "first" album, to this one, you can certainly see some slippage. "Warren Zevon" represented the fruits of several years of writing songs in obscurity -- great songs, as it turned out. "Excitable Boy" didn't have as many good songs, but it had enough, and it was zesty and captured its moment, bringing the pugilistic spirit of Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemingway into rock for the first time. "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School" is actually a better album than "Excitable Boy," but at the time it came out it was treated like a disappointment. Musically, it is as sophisticated as "Warren Zevon." The string interludes are actually quite beautiful. The sad ballads "Empty Handed Heart" and "Bed of Coals" are quite affecting and artful. "Gorilla You're a Desperado" and "Play it All Night Long" are two of his funniest lyrics, and the title tune is efficient and cinematic in its depiction of a loser running out of luck in an unlikely place. "Bill Lee," about a maverick baseball player of the 1970s, is a brief song in three parts, a perfect little profile in music and words. The two weakest songs are "Jungle Work," which strikes me as a rehash of the great "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," and "Jeannie Needs a Shooter," which is supposedly a collaboration with Bruce Springsteen (but I don't believe it.) But they are listenable -- you don't skip them. I love the final track, "Wild Age," a hard-rocking meditation on the fear parents have that their kids might go bad and never come back. Can't help but think he was worrying about himself as well as his kids, because as we know, he was trying and failing to deal with his alcoholism at this time.
Like "Excitable Boy" and a few of his other albums, this one is full of guest musicians, rock royalty of the late 70s. The best of them are Linda Ronstadt, a lovely duet partner on "Empty Handed Heart" and part of the background chorus on "Bed of Coal," and David Lindley, who fires up several songs here with his broad-gauge slide guitar.
This is a record that will grow on you. It doesn't fulfill the promise of that first album (the one with "Poor Pitiful Me" and "Desperados Under the Eaves," but it's his attempt to get back there, and when it works, it's fine."
John Stodder | 03/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think that being a performing artist is a tough job. Aside from having to produce art, your personal changes are chronicled and discussed publicly. Warren made this record during his "tumultuous" period. Sometimes times of crisis give birth to incredible product that would have been impossible to create absent the madness. Look again at Rolling Stones' Black and Blue, a ridiculously great and underrated collection that was recorded during Keith's worst times. Personally I put Warren Zevon in a musical brilliance and accomplishment class with Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, and Louis Armstrong. Recognized or not, Warren laid it down. This record is from the early phase and is volatile and full of wonder. Empty-Handed Heart is perfect and might have merited inclusion on Genius and the Anthology. Warren of course evolved in his later, sober years into the musical giant who created Mutineer, Life'll Kill Ya, and My Ride's Here. But you don't get those until you've lived with this one, Excitable Boy, the Envoy, and Sentimental Hygiene. The ride's the point, and Warren is the American master."