The Wind is a difficult album to review, as the fact that Warren Zevon passed away barely a couple of weeks after it’s release casts a long shadow over it. It is an album which will forever be linked to his death and as such, it’s difficult to assess it on its own merits. Indeed, much of its commercial success can be put down to the fact that the tastemakers gave it rave reviews as a way of assuaging their own guilt over not previously giving Zevon the recognition he deserved. Following the rave reviews came the biggest sales of Zevon’s career since his days as an Excitable Boy, and then the inevitable posthumous recognition by way of a pair of Grammys that Zevon would have probably appreciated a whole lot more if they had been awarded to him for one of his other albums when he had been alive.
As a result of all this, The Wind has a lot of baggage for some fans. It’s evident even without the gaunt Zevon staring balefully out of the album cover, that he was reaching the end. His voice was noticeably thinner than it was previously, and the lyrics aren’t quite as razor sharp as Zevon at his very best. That said, given the circumstances, it was a fine effort, and if almost anyone else had written the majority of the songs on here, it would have been a career highlight for them.
Opener, “Dirty Life and Times”, starts The Wind off strong, with Zevon confessing his lesser qualities in a way that only the likes of he and Randy Newman can. Another major highlight is the world-weary cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, which could so easily come across as mawkish in the hands of a lesser talent, but Zevon pretty much nails it. It’s heartwarming to think that, despite the slightly unbecoming celebrity backslapping that The Wind suffers from (the musician credits on the album read like a whose-who of rich middle-aged rock stars), the one name missing from it all is Dylan’s, who instead paid his own tribute to Zevon by way of covering “Werewolves of London” during his never ending tour.
The best song on the entire album though is the one that closes The Wind, and fittingly is also one of the few where Zevon isn’t accompanied by one of his millionaire mates. “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While”, could have been a significant blunder and suffered from an overdose of sentimentality, instead the trio of super-session drummer Jim Keltner, Zevon’s musical right-hand man Jorge Calderón, and Zevon himself get it exactly right and produce a genuine tear-jerker. Apparently it was recorded after the rest of the album in a separate session, and it stands as Zevon’s last goodbye to the world where he gave us this one final truly great song. It’s a measure of Zevon’s brilliance that, even after what could have been one last burn-out with his rich and famous friends, he would still manage to pull things together for this one last song, this final dignified goodbye, where he looked the world straight in the eye and reminded them how truly great he had been.