* * * 1/2 "SENTIMENTAL HYGIENE." Warren Zevon. Virgin. "Should have quit while I was ahead," sings Warren Zevon on his first record in five years. But "Sentimental Hygiene" shows it's a good thing Zevon didn't cash in his chips in the wake of his "Werewolves of London" fame: After being largely forgotten by fans and the industry, he became the first American signed to Virgin Records' new U.S. label, and he's now returned with what might be his toughest album ever.
Zevon's last album, 1982's "The Envoy," contained some of his hardest and best songs, and "Hygiene" picks up with the assaultive rock 'n' roll of that record. The title track, where Zevon surveys today's ravaged romantic terrain over a huge, "Envoy"-style beat, is typical of an album whose characters' lives are as turbulent and stormy as the music.
"The Heartache," one of the LP's two ballads, is as open, artless and beguiling a song as he's ever written. But for the most part it's rough stuff, one rave-up after another. Guests like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and George Clinton add punch and, in their role as Zevon's backing band, R.E.M. sounds far more forceful and powerful than on its own records.