December 18, 1989 12:00 PM

Warren Zevon

Zevon seems to have misplaced some of the populist tendencies he displayed in 1987 with Sentimental Hygiene, but he can still write snarling rockers with the best of them.

He crosses the line from aggressive to alienating at times, as he does with the wall of synthesizers that comes crashing down on the title track and a recitation of noxious chemicals on the pro-environmental “Run Straight Down.” (While getting out your old high school chemistry textbook to figure out what he’s talking about, you can play the rest of the record, to hear Jerry Garcia’s cosmic guitar runs and the piercing notes of David Gilmour’s six-string.)

On “Turbulence,” though, Zevon takes an imaginative and sympathetic stance toward Soviet citizens who live far from Moscow and must carry out the policies of the Politburo, much like folks in Wisconsin might feel when Washington passes laws they don’t agree with. “We’ve been fightin’ with the mujahedin/ Down in Afghanistan,” sings Zevon. “Comrade Gorbachev can I go back to Vladivostok, man?”

Running hot and then lukewarm throughout, Zevon sometimes takes on too obvious targets, such as traffic congestion (“Gridlock”) and rampant consumerism (“Down in the Mall”). But the lonely-hearted can shed a few tears with Warren when, on “Nobody’s in Love This Year,” he says, “I don’t want to be Mr. Vulnerable/ I don’t want to get hurt….”

Just remember, though, this guy once sang a song about Lynyrd Skynyrd with the lyrics “Sweet Home Alabama/ Play that dead band’s song.” So no one is going to call him Mr. Sensitive. Mr. Erratic might get it, though, and in his more reflective moments, maybe even Mr. Perceptive. (Virgin)

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