Warren Zevon’s “The Envoy” (1982) – The Deep Racks Report

A Special Edition of the Weekend Review

I think we’ve all heard the term “deep track,” used to refer to songs that do not receive much (or any) commercial radio airplay.  This series is dedicated to brief but focused reports on ALBUMS that do not receive as much commercial or critical attention as they should.

By Chris Moore:

Considerable time has passed since I last dug deep into the racks for a dusty gem, as Cuomo and company might say, to wipe off and take out for a spin.  Inadvertently coming across this record today has proved reason enough to revive the Deep Racks Report.

To suggest that The Envoy is least appreciated of all Warren Zevon albums would be an understatement.  It is the production whose reception resulted in his record label dropping him by the wayside.  It is the release that coincided — not so coincidentally, after he discovered he was unemployed via a music magazine — with a self-destructive run that landed him in rehab.

Some albums that are not as successful as the big-wigs may have hoped are given a second shot in re-release. The Envoy was given that chance…

…twenty-four years after it hit the shelves.

On the eve of its release in 2006, I found it conspicuous that this Zevon record had never been converted to CD previously.  The obvious question was, how bad could it possibly be?

I had my reservations.

Admittedly due in part to my low expectations, I became immediately enamored with these nine tracks.  It is a brief album, to be certain, but in my opinion, there are far too many examples of those releases that suffer from the opposite flaw.  The nine songs that comprise The Envoy are a cohesive set that negotiate the common territory of, well, negotiating the concerns of the singer: love and authority, to name a couple.

While not innovative, these songs are far from pedestrian.  Zevon continues along the same sonic veins that he has established on previous records, adding the uncharacteristically stripped-down, acoustic “Jesus Mentioned” — a preview of what was to come in the latter half of his career — and the unhinged romp “Ain’t That Pretty At All,” which shakes up the formula at the top of side B.

Warren Zevon's "The Envoy" (1982)

Warren Zevon's "The Envoy" (1982)

There are those that might scoff at my self-righteous resurrection of a lost album, mumbling to themselves about how albums are often deserving of their respective fates.  How low must my bar be set that I could admit such a lost and forgotten sample from Zevon’s nearly three decade long recording career?  The answer is: because I’ve heard lots of Zevon lots and lots of times.  I know a good Zevon release from a great one, and I can distinguish between the misguided, the mediocre, and the amazing.

This album leans decidedly towards the latter.

The Envoy has it all.  There is the fantastic, destined-for-the-greatest-hits track “Looking for the Next Best Thing.”  There are the straightforward rockers “The Envoy,” with its clever, then-contemporary political implications, and “The Overdraft,” which voices concerns of a more personal nature.  There are the tongue-in-cheek, tragic (i.e. typically Zevon-esque) tracks “The Hula Hula Boys” and “Charlie’s Medicine.”  And, for good measure, the songwriter reminds us that he’s not entirely jaded with a pair of purposeful, confident, and dare I say even romantic numbers: “Let Nothing Come Between You” and “Never Too Late for Love.”

Equally important to any serious study of The Envoy is the investigation of the songs that didn’t make the cut.  Wisely, Zevon withheld the overly eighties-sounding “The Risk,” a decision that speaks volumes for his clear mindedness regarding album sequencing, even at the worst of times. And it does makes a fun little bonus track, as does his cover of “Wild Thing.”  I would hope there was never any serious consideration paid towards adding this Troggs cover to the lineup, but all that really matters is that it was never included.

Even if these outtakes had been added, there would be no clear reason to excommunicate The Envoy from Warren Zevon’s body of available work.  There would have been less reason to respect it, but the nine tracks that did, in actuality, make the cut amount to a tight, smart album that knows when to crank up to breakneck speed and when to unroll a ballad, where to be sardonic and where to be sincere.

It is with great pleasure that I add The Envoy to my list of “Deep Racks” recommendations.  I hope you enjoy it!  (If you can find it…)

This is one in a series of acoustic cover songs, original music, and free mp3 downloads here on the Laptop Sessions Music Video Blog.

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