Batshit Insane Vol. 4: Transverse City

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It’s easy to point out the major flaw with Warren Zevon’s Transverse City:  The production.  The record definitely has that late 80’s production for a good deal of it, with cheesy keyboard sounds and all that plagued that era.  However, I would argue that the production makes this record even more insane as Warren Zevon lyrically catalogs all that is wrong with modern society.  Transverse City is a concept record that was inspired by science fiction and the early cyberpunk movement.  However, like anything well done in the world of science fiction, it helps to provide a clearer look at our present.  And somehow Zevon not only conveyed his times pretty accurately, but also much about ours.  But lets get back to the production.  Imagine weird overloaded 80’s production with lines like these from Run Straight Down:

I went walking in the wasted city
Started thinking about entropy
Smelled the wind from the ruined river
Went home to watch TV

And later…

Fluorocarbons in the ozone layer
First the water and the wildlife go
Pretty soon there’s not a creature stirring
‘Cept the robots at the dynamo

A who’s who of musicians stops by, everyone from Jerry Garcia to David Gilmore.  Everyone overplays with ridiculous tones, but again this only adds to the madness of the project, especially as Zevon spouts out jet black lyrics concerning the fate of mankind with his usual cynical sense of humor.  Garcia plays some weird Chinese sounding scales, while strange synth blips go off seemingly at random in the title track.  Meanwhile in that track Zevon starts the album with:

Told my little Pollyanna
There’s a place for you and me
We’ll go down to Transverse City
Life is cheap and Death is free

Zevon, on song after song, paints a bleak picture of a capitalist society drowning in its own fat.  If he had done this as an acoustic folk record or with a straight ahead rock band it might have aged better, but it wouldn’t be so effective at painting the world that Zevon is describing.  I don’t know how this record sounded to people when it was made, but now it sounds a great deal like the world in his words.  It is a world where technology, already rusting from its outdatedness, already not delivering on its promises, has taken over everything and humanity fights to be heard above the decaying din.  Zevon’s voice, delivering the words of a dark prophet, fights for space in a synthetic mix.  It’s not hard to picture a place like China, with its population problems and pollution, the power of the future, and yet of a future that its own residents might not want to inhabit.  Zevon goes through the looking glass and comes out the other side with strange truths and haunted eyes.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

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