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Class ?

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a ZZ Top fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective ZZ Top fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1970

A nice bluesy debut. I'll tell you this: ZZ Top will certainly never be one of my favourite bands, but that doesn't mean I'm not able to at least respect them for churning out this slick, well-crafted music that has as little soul as, well, your average Janet Jackson ditty, but certainly has a lot of work and creative effort put into it. I mean, there was something unrepairably wrong with this band from the very start, wasn't it? First Album is almost entirely blues-based, but it's stiff, by the book, overproduced blues rigidly stuffed into the tight outfit of a Texas rancher. Well, that's obviously what the so-called "Texas Blues" was all about and that also explains why music like that is so often used in MGM movie soundtracks - nothing like a good hard blast o' Da Blooze that sounds nice and convincing while it's on but will never even begin threatening to overshadow the movie's plot because it's, well, artificial - I just can't find a better word.

That said, once we overcome the bias that prevents us from enjoying soulless artificial music (and hey, if all good music has to have soul, I can count the 'classic albums' in one long gulp), First Album turns out to be consistently enjoyable. The rhythm section is tight and powerful, just as it suits a hard rock band, and Billy Gibbons has some nice, cool guitar tones out there - in fact, they either sound as conventional hard rockers limiting themselves to the blues or like conventional bluesmen trying to ape Blue Cheer's or Iron Butterfly's approach. That's what makes them special. No "good taste" or "laid back attitude" - just gruff, mindless hacking away, with a trifle of machismo (not that much - sure ain't no AC/DC) and with relatively short beards. Maybe none at all; didn't they start having those down to their navels only in the early Eighties? Well, takes a long time to grow a beard that long.

I can't find a single bad song on here - but there are hardly any classics either. Billy Gibbons wrote most of them, often with the aid of the band's producer Bill Ham, and they're all mostly within one formula. If something stands out, it's hardly because of the melody. 'Just Got Back From Baby's' is the closest thing to a highlight, I think, because of the blistering lead guitarwork - the solos are excellently crafted and pack a whole lotta punch inside of them (and that high trebley echoey tone is one of my favourite guitar tones ever, so count me happy). Out of the riff-heavy tunes, I'd select 'Neihgbor Neighbor', with its almost robotic mechanical beat (well, it's ZZ Top, what do you want) that's great to play air guitar to, and the funny lyrics - I love that line about the neighbor 'floating in the salty brine' at the end.

Out of the more generic numbers, 'Brown Sugar' is probably the most well-known, even if it's vastly inferior to the Stones song of the same name. It's powerful and crunchy enough, but so are most of the songs on here, which doesn't really provide much insight into the song's specific nature. 'Backdoor Love Affair' and 'Certified Blues' are also good... heck, they're all all right. All fine. All okay. All eminently forgettable in the long run.

Actually, what's most interesting on here is the Gibbons/Ham/Dusty Hill composition 'Squank'. I suppose 'squank' is just the same mysterious kind of animal that's pictured in Genesis' 'Squonk' (how could this be a coincidence?), and both probably have something to do with 'skunk' (some Indian word), but while 'Squonk' featured a very unhappy animal dissolving itself in a pool of tears when captured, 'Squank' takes the animal in a completely different aspect - a gruesome smelly monster of a truly apocalyptic character, threatening the very existence of the universe. Its connotations with "skunk" are far more explicit here - 'and soon we'll all be breathin' out of tanks/If something ain't done about the squank'. Anybody has any ideas on the subject? They're welcome. In the meantime, go out and buy... nah, not this album. Buy the Allman Brothers Band's Idlewild South. Or some Rolling Stones, for that matter.

And mind you, ZZ Top's First Album ain't really half bad.



Year Of Release: 1972

The high points on this follow-up are indeed higher, but the low points are lower and overall it's just too much of an uninspired copy of the debut to get a better rating. Still, Rio Grande Mud rocks out just a wee bit harsher - there are more danceable rhythms on here, and more classy, if not super-duper, riffs as well. The opening two cuts are probably the best known songs, and they are indeed worth some attention, if only because you'd never expect all that rockin' energy judging by the band's debut. 'Francine' is a good old retro rocker with Seventies' guitar tones with a subject quite in the style of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee (love with a thirteen-year old, that is). And 'Just Got Paid' is, well, menacing as hell, with a typical ZZ-guitar tone to it. Excellent headbanging.

Later on, though, the formula again starts to wear kinda thin. They fall back on the "polished blues" thing again, with the conventional harmonica lines of 'Mushmouth Shoutin' not really being all that impressive; go for even more generic boogie on the well-performed, but strangely lifeless 'Bar-B-Q' (which is actually nothing but a reworking of Carl Perkins' 'Matchbox' - the only thing deviating from the original are the suggestive lyrics and the strange guitar twirlings in the middle of the song); and turn out a few more rockers without any obvious hooks. I mean, 'Chevrolet', 'Ko Ko Blue', and 'Down Brownie' are all eminently listenable and all, but don't you think they... er... lack inventiveness, so to speak? I know a good rocker when I hear it, and these just float by like your average barroom ear-candy. Well, come to think, ZZ Top were average barroom ear-candy, but still, they were better barroom ear-candy than most, and I just don't hear it on these songs.

A particular low is the torturing, never-ending dirgey balladeering of 'Sure Got Cold After The Rain'. I actually know a few people who like this song, but I beg to differ. That generic instrumental melody can be met on a thousand other songs (see the Stones' 'I Got The Blues' as the first reference that came into my head), and the vocal melody is at best clumsy (at worst, I just don't notice it's there at all). This is actually ZZ Top's first effort at penning a ballad, and it eminently proves that the band should really stick to their barroom rock instead.

Still, the second side has a couple moments of saving grace. One is the excellent instrumental 'Apologies To Pearly', with Gibbons letting it rip on slide guitar - I adore a good slide now and then, and the man sure works out wonders with it; I really can't say if I ever heard a similar solo passage in my life before; probably not, since I was so impressed. I mean, usually all the blues and blues-rock guys either just use the slide as a secondary overdub to add a few "extra touches" to the arrangement, or treat it as a minimalistic instrument (for creating beautiful solos, of course, but that's not the point here), or just recreate the solo from Elmore James' 'Dust My Broom' a million times in a row. 'Apologies To Pearly' also starts with a few Elmore James bars, but then veers on into a territory of its own: Billy uses the instrument wisely and creatively, and really makes it rock out, which is so rare. Maybe I'm not making sense, but that's how it seems to me. And finally, 'Whiskey'n'Mama' is also a very deserving rocker, maybe with the best riff on the entire record; a little bit of funk out there, which is a soothing bit of diversion.

Anyway, to use a heavier style, Rio Grande Mud combines the formulaic Texas blues approach of its predecessor with moderate veerings into the neighbouring territories of balladeering, funk and retro boogie; an approach which has its extra pluses and extra minuses that end up annihilating each other. Which means, of course, that the record, while being one of the band's least famous, is still heavily recommended for any lover of the ZZ Top style.



Year Of Release: 1973

And here - dare I say it? - comes creative growth! The band makes just a few little, at first sight insignificant, twitches in the formula, and comes out with an album that not only sounds pleasant, but finally seems well worth the effort - a record which I'll be glad to be putting on some more, that is. The opening cut, 'Waiting For The Bus', is enough to explain everything: ZZ Top are starting to season their work with real solid hooks. Not just hooks - HOOKS. Billy Gibbons introduces that strange whiny intonation of his, and the band isn't just proving that it's tough or that it does know how to play the blues; it actually attracts your attention. In this song's case, I particularly mean the nagging, catchy riff and the poisonous wah-wah solo that's... well, definitely no slouch.

The hard, smack-in-yer-face rockers, in fact, are what makes up most of this album's charm - sorta like the Allman Brothers meet the Who, particularly on the wonderful speedy rave-up 'Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers'. That train-speed chug-a-chug-a-chug of Billy's guitar is irresistable, and the blistering solos take you away to rock nirvana in an instant. (They are pretty monotonous and generic, of course, but whoever said generic monotonous solos can't get you away to rock nirvana? That wasn't me). And, of course, there's 'La Grange' - their first big hit, featuring Billy sing about all the pleasures and comforts of a public house. For one minute only, though: the rest of the song is just an instrumental boogie, borrowing its riff from the blues classic 'Shake Your Hips' or maybe its predecessor (isn't that kind of thing sorta passed down through generations?).

The rest of the songs suck as usual, though. Wait, what's that I said? ZZ Top songs don't really suck - they just... well, if they're good, they kick ass, and if they're bad, they just sorta sit there and stare at the window. I'm going through a period of silliness, so excuse me if I'm getting way off the beaten track. Anyway, fact is, I just named the highlights of this album, but I couldn't really think of any serious stinkers - maybe the closing 'Have You Heard', a pretty generic and worthless repetitive shuffle, comes close. What I really don't like, though, is the band's deep passion for gospel at this point: what the heck is 'Hot, Blue And Righteous', for instance? Is it supposed to be a joke? It's set to the same rhythm that was used on 'Sure Got Cold', and it's very soulful, but the lyrics suggest... eh, well, I always get the feeling they mean something kinky out there. Weird.

Then there's the stupid 'Jesus Just Left Chicago', a song which everybody seems to like, but I can't figure out why because apart from Billy's sneering, bizarre vocals it's just another routine blues stomper with little to redeem it. But who says it sucks? It doesn't. It's just a cool and forgettable piece of blues.

Likewise, all those other rockers. I like all of 'em - all of 'em, don't you dare flame me - but I could certainly live without them. I suppose 'Master Of Sparks' has that groovy Sabbathy vibe going for it (like Master Of Reality, eh?), although I can't get what's happening in the lyrics worth crap. Some dude getting locked in a steel cage and letting off sparks, so it seems. I suppose 'Move On Down The Line' is a great song to start a movie with when the main character is driving along the freeway with cactuses and canyons floating by and everybody is waiting for the captions to disappear. I suppose 'Precious And Grace' is a mindless clone of 'Master Of Sparks'. I suppose 'Sheik' is kinda weird. And that's all I suppose.

I also think this review was kinda scattered - I myself don't understand why I gave Tres Hombres three and a half stars out of five and not, say, one and three quarters, but then again, you should never distrust your intuition if it starts guiding your hand in the first place. Oh well, maybe I'm just in a good mood today. Scrap it, maybe I'll get around to rewriting it some day - when I grow myself a beard as long as Billy Gibbons'.



Year Of Release: 1975

This is perhaps one of the most easy-going records I've sat through for a long, long time - it just goes down easy like there was no tomorrow. That's not to say it's one of the best records I've sat through for a long, long time, so there. The songs are all so short and straightforward, so thoroughly unpretentious and uncomplex that you can't help liking these guys. Can you?

There's the little deal of the live side of the album, though. See, it's only half-studio; the other half is live, where ZZ Top present themselves as the most generic and - dare I say it? - almost blatantly dumb bar band of all time. Kicking into a frenetic boogie, they plough through two tolerable numbers - the hilarious 'Thunderbird' and an unnecessary, but acceptable cover of 'Jailhouse Rock' - and then engage in a nine-minute medley where they seem more intent on recreating the artificial "kick-ass" atmosphere than actually playing their instruments. Fast tempo, stupid gibberish, clownish behaviour... what's not to like? But let's not forget, if there were AC/DC in their place, they would do the same gibberish and clownade as well, but they'd also play, too. We don't pay you our hard-earned bucks for trying to pronounce 'got to mellow got to mellow got to mellow' as fast as you can. I can try this at home myself. Not funny, guys.

The studio numbers are classy, though. Short, compact, precise, these songs are the quintessential Texan rock for you, which somebody like George W. Bush actually should have gained some brains to understand, see. (That's about the highest compliment to Texan rock I can garner at the moment, but I'll be thinking of more in the future). 'Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings' has a funky riff indeed, and a really mean solo that only a Billy Gibbons could cut, that's for sure. Don't forget the double-tracked guitars, too, man! That's what they're they're for. That fat old ZZ Top sound. 'Heard It On The X', then, kicks some serious ass, and does that for two minutes and twenty six seconds - could you imagine the Allman Brothers doing that? The Allman Brothers needed two minutes and twenty six seconds as an intro to any ass-kicking number, that's what I'd say. The radio hit here was 'Tush', with the memorable refrain ('I ain't asking for much, I said Lord take me downtown, I'm just lookin' for some tush') and a braggard, hyper-expressive melody that symbolizes the South! Yahoo!

The humour arrives along in 'Mexican Blackbird', with a very tongue-in-cheek intonation and slight Dylan overtones (the main melody sure reminds of 'She Belongs To Me', doesn't it?), and the white boy romance kicks in with 'Blue Jean Blues', a ballad that's as corny as can be but I take it as it is: intentionally corny. If one day I fall upon proof irrefutable that Billy Gibbons intended the song as a really mournful and moving emotional plea, I honestly promise to deprive the album of an entire star, just as a cure for stupidity (Billy's and my own, that is).

Well, not really much else to say about the album. Truth is, they're just redoing their 'typical' record for the fourth time (or for the third, or for the second, if you're really that insistent on the vital significance of Gibbons' patented guitar tones that didn't arrive all at once), and therefore the live half is a nice diversifying touch - should be a nice diversifying touch, but most of it sucks, so I'm kinda left stuck. I'll still give it three stars because there's nothing deeply wrong with these records, but it's pitiful that at this stage the band wasn't even trying to go ahead and deepen or modificate their sound and style in any way. Heck, they weren't even growing themselves any beards at the time! Isn't that pathetic? Only Joe Hill has a beard on the cover, and it ain't all that large, too!


TEJAS ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1976

Now see, it would be easy to totally dismiss this one as yet another easy-going batch of derivative and pointless barroom boogie/blues-rock crap. Which is what I already was intending to do when it suddenly struck me: 'Hey! These guys actually put a J in the album title! That's a J, sure as hell, not an X! They're so dang blatant about their Spanishness! Perhaps I'll give it another try, what the heck...'

...and it worked, more or less. Tejas isn't the patented world-saving rock classic by any means, but it definitely IS a record worth hearing if you're just sittin' round wondering how far these bearded rednecks can go with their guitar experimentation. Mr Gibbons experimentates with lots of tones and overtones on here, and further perfectionizes ZZ Top's Texan rock formula, giving it more of that slick, tongue-in-cheek edge than usual. Slightly more complex rhythmic structures, more and more exaggeration in vocal intonations, and a whiff of diveristy over here and over there. And over all the slickness, that goshdarn ZZ Top slickness rules supreme. The guitar tones are so dry they make your throat go sore and stiff - oh, for a drop o' tequila to wet those strings! Almost like you were truly and really drivin' through some loony desert, until you just can't take it any more and drop half-dead after all that insane drive. And then comes 'Asleep In The Desert' indeed - an atmospheric slow Spanish instrumental with a minimalistic acoustic pattern throughout. Dry as hell, too. Not that I like the tune: it's a bit too weather-forecast style for me, so I prefer to concentrate on the rougher material.

Something like 'El Diablo', for instance. Cool riff on that one, and the song is surprisingly dark and menacing for such a band as ZZ Top. No, wait, scrap that, it's a rather tame menace by itself (sheez, I heard the Eagles putting out more disturbing stuff than that), but that's not the main thing. The main thing is that the riff cooks, and the way it kinda appears out of nowhere and disappears into nowhere, replaced by grumbling echoey solitary chords, all moody and atmospheric, almost reminds me of Brian Eno and the like. Actually, while I realize that comparisons with Eno on a ZZ Top review page are more ridiculous than a [insert your favourite stupid comparison here - I don't have the wit or the humour to think of one, and I ain't in the mood, either], I can't deny that Tejas is, so far, the closest that Gibbons and company have come to producing a record that really Takes You Places - not just sits there and presents you with a couple decent footstompers and headbangers and penisraisers to go along with your titties 'n' beer, to quote Frank Zappa.

Plus, some of the tunes are hilarious as well. 'Enjoy And Get It On', for instance, is one of the best examples of "Absolutely Drunk Blues" I've ever heard (as opposed to "Absolutely Drunk Rock", best represented by AC/DC's 'You Shook Me All Night Long'). 'Snappy Kakkie', as evidenced by the title itself, is so dang sh-sh-shakey I can't help but sh-sh-shake to it. And if the fun factor doesn't draw you in, the exciting guitar croaks and creaks on 'Ten Dollar Man' definitely will, unless you have a complete alergy on Texas, Texan rock, Billy Gibbons, long beards, blues, blues rock, power trios, machismo, sexism, cactuses, oil wells, cowboy hats, or the Electoral College. In which case, I can only recommend sticking to Strawberry Alarm Clock (the farthest one from all of these things, I guess. Why the farthest one? Because it has 'strawberries' in it!).

That said, there's still quite a bit of filler on this record - I mean, at least a third part of these tunes do nothing for me, and I wouldn't even be a-wantin' to name all of the goddamn suckers, because it would require a far deeper degree of analysis and a far more complete and detailed insight into ZZ Top's music in general. And would I really want that? Excuse me; I'm just saying that about a third of these tunes are generic filler, and as long as Gibbons doesn't play the fool or doesn't feel the need to find yet another cute guitar trick, they don't draw my attention at all. Now excuse me while I go and hang myself on the nearest aloe.



Year Of Release: 1979

Another year, another ZZ Top album. (Ssh! Don't tell anyone there's been a three year break! That don't sound cool!). If you want progression and artistic development, go get out your "Berlin Trilogy" or something - Gilly Bibbons and friends are no experimental sissies. Thus when you put on Deguello and find out, to your major amazement, that this is an album recorded by experimental sissies, don't believe your ears, because the only thing that makes this record a record made by experimental sissies is the self-played saxophone on 'She Loves My Automobile' ("self-played" as different from "self-playing", which would actually mean the presence of scientifically unexplainable Texan mythological spirits on this record, which is, however, somehow hinted at by ZZ Top's scariest album cover to date - inspired by Judas Priest, no doubt).

This is a good record, anyway, containing some of the band's best known tunes and - naturally - a serious percentage of filler. What I suddenly start noticing, for once, are the lyrics, which become sharper and a lot more cynical than before. Eliminator may have completed this process, but I think it's Deguello that should be taken as the starting point of ZZ Top's transformation from an unpretentious ass-kicking blues-rock band into a socially relevant, sarcastic, beard-wielding "scrutinizers of the Southern vices". Then again, maybe not - the sarcasm and the straightforwardness are very much weaved together on all their releases - but at least this metamorphosis really struck me over the process of listening to Deguello and not to any of its predecessors, so let the point stand.

What's most important is that the sarcastic songs kick ass, too. 'Cheap Sunglasses', for instance - classy riffs, partially borrowed from Blind Faith's 'Had To Cry Today', you could say, but only partially, and, of course, the trend-mocking lyrics. The little bits of funky soloing are pretty tasty too, with Billy overdubbing two minimalistic guitars over each other to good effect (there's the "wicked" guitar and the "gentle" guitar battling with each other). 'I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide' ain't half bad either, with Gibbons' sarcasm ringing out of your speakers loud and proud - 'easin' down the highway in a new Cadillac, I had a fine fox in front, I had three more in the back, they sportin' short dresses, wearin' spike-heeled shoes, they smokin' Lucky Strikes, wearing nylon too... welcome back, we're nationwide!' But if you want some really awesome solos, you'll have to get yourself 'A Fool For Your Stockings', where Billy wields a particularly sharp semi-acoustic guitar tone and combines cute jazzy licks with basic Elmore James-like bluesy passages to unique effect.

Speaking of Elmore James, I'll never really understand the need to cover his 'Dust My Broom' on the record - it just doesn't fit in with the material the band was penning at the time. It's done well, but who really needs it? I never thought much of the Fleetwood Mac cover, I don't really need to hear the ZZ Top cover either, even if they do not go out of themselves to make an exact copy. I guess it was just a kind of a nice gesture to their earliest brand of fans, the ones who still wanted them to simply play generic blues. Speaking of covers, on the other hand, their version of Isaac Hayes' 'I Thank You' totally smokes - hey, why does everybody think so little of Billy Gibbons' singing? He consciously tries his best to sound like a certified idiot on every second track and more, and succeeds in that, without actually being a certified idiot, like some particularly depressing cock rock singers I could, but won't name.

The rest of the tunes are hit-and-miss, though - 'Manic Mechaniac' has a cool experimental sound (with electronic effects on the vocals and tricky time signatures in between the verses), but doesn't seem to be making any points, and stereotypic boogie like 'She Loves My Automobile' (even with the saxes) and equally stereotypic mid-tempo rock like 'Lowdown In The Street' and 'Esther Be The One' are as forgettable as anything. You know what? To tell you the truth, ALL of this album is forgettable. And all of its predecessors, too. Not having listened to Tejas or Tres Hombres or anything else for more than half a year, I have forgotten how any tune on them goes. Ha! Now that's consistency for you. But, on the other hand, there's something to be said for spontaneity, is there not? On an immediate level, all of those records are moderately rewarding, and that's much more than I could say about Grand Funk Railroad.


EL LOCO ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1981

Hey, maybe Billy Gibbons and company are experimental sissies after all! This stuff doesn't sound at all like the preceding album. Gotta give Mr Gibbons his due, he does not want to get stuck in a rut forever. He gets himself some new guitar tones, dabbles around in synthesizers... never forgetting the TeJJJJJas roots, of course, but readily willing to tap into the unknown. How else will you explain the unbelievable experiment 'Heaven, Hell or Houston'? One thing for sure, it ain't roots rock. It's more like a, uh, psychedelic sci-fi phantasmagoria with goofy spoken electronically encoded lyrics interrupted by 'Jingle Bells'-style phrases and only incorporating a (albeit lengthy) bluesy solo in the middle.

Of course, most of the time anyway the band does not wish to be betraying their roots so goddamn badly. The weird phased guitar tone is preferrably explored on more usual standards, like the melodically generic blues-rocker 'Tube Snake Boogie' that opens the record - but it does give the song a totally unusual feel, at least for 1981 (although I don't seem to remember blues purists taking off after ZZ Top in heaps, you know). Same goes for 'I Wanna Drive You Home', where the guitar occasionally sounds like it's been given a Moog treatment or something; sometimes it seems like at this point Mr Gibbons just totally gave up on writing melodies, entirely concentrating on making these melodies sound weirder instead. But you know, that's alright by me... isn't that what Led Zeppelin have been doing for a large part of their career?

I'd say the only seriously catchy song on the entire album is 'Pearl Necklace', which you just gotta hear from beginning to end, because if you restrict yourself to the first few seconds (which isn't really a bad tactic with ZZ Top in the regular case), you'll end up thinking they ripped it off from the Police's 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' which they did not. Instead, they just wrote a song based on a trivial, but not uninteresting, pop melody and a style of rhythm playing directly taken from the Talking Heads. Or maybe the Cure, but I can't stand the possibility of ZZ Top borrowing anything from the Cure. For all of Billy Gibbons' open-mindedness, something like that would still be totally unbelievable.

Unfortunately, El Loco is also the album to feature arguably ZZ Top's worst song of all time, the cheesy adult contemporary ballad 'Leila' - a song that's not only bad by its own standards, it also just doesn't fit at all in with the band's style on here. We all know these lads as moderately intelligent people able to take their entire image tongue-in-cheek, but 'Leila' doesn't betray a single sign of irony, instead, it's just a sappy mid-tempo piece of "ear candy", much as I hate that particular expression. Granted, even the most sarcastic band of all time, the Sparks, occasionally used to put surprisingly sincere-sounding and sentimental ballads on their albums, but at least they were gracing them with unbeatable hooks and gorgeous vocals. Here, Billy has to let his voice through a vocoder or a warp machine or something like that, which is all right for the raunchier songs or for freakin' experiments like 'Heaven, Hell Or Houston', but on 'Leila' it just adds to the general dumbness. I gotta say that the album's second ballad, 'It's So Hard', is hardly much better. Maybe it's just the stupid obstinate me who isn't willing to accept any sentiments from Billy Gibbons, but believe me, there's plenty of people in this world who are able to offer much better sentiments.

Me, I'll just stick to all these goofy little rockers like the keyboards-laiden 'Groovy Little Hippie Pad', where the guzzly guitar riff is hidden in the background to make place for surprisingly effective and novel overlays of little synth noises. Or I can even take the album's most - and only - straightforward barroom rocker 'Party On The Patio', which closes the album on a totally hilarious note. That's the way I like my barroom rock, fast, unpretentious, catchy and F-U-N. And in the end, you might even say that El Loco is a better attempt at crossing basic blues-rock values with contemporary production and guitar styles than the unbearably slick and overproduced Eliminator, although that's up to the concrete listener, I guess.



Year Of Release: 1983

This is ZZ Top's Back In Black: if you keep saying you don't like it, chances are you're fooling yourself to sound "special", and missing out on a great fun ride in the process. But it's actually more than Back In Black in some ways, because without this album, ZZ Top would still essentially be merely an average Southern rock band, albeit with cool guitar tones and a sharper sense of humour than most Southern rock bands.

With this album, though, ZZ Top becomes the band that revolutionized blues-rock by merging it with synth-pop elements before a shocked and terrified crowd. Goes without saying that Eliminator caused blues purists to lose whatever respect they might have had for the band; with its slick, modernistic production values, synthesizers, and - most important of all - MTV accompanying videos, it was a nightmare for the anti-commercially minded crowd, who rushed to buy Stevie Ray Vaughan's albums instead. Good for them; I like Stevie Ray a lot, too. But I also am not going to fool myself by saying 'ZZ Top sold out and became an average ordinary MTV-ruled muppet', because there's nothing average or ordinary about Eliminator.

Okay, so maybe the songs aren't thoroughly memorable. They're not better or worse than on any other ZZ Top album - same mix of blues, blues-rock, and a ballad or two in the mix. But it's the sound that's so unique, for its time at least. These double-tracked riffs, these grim crunchy electronic effects placed on them, this use of the synthesizer as a metallizing gimmick instead of the more usual 'romantic-atmospheric' emploi of the thing... man does it ever rule. And the most wonderful thing is, Eliminator still sounds alive and impressing after all the treatments; it just doesn't sound like what you'd expect your average blues-rock record to sound. There's not much "soul" left here, but then again let's remember ZZ Top never really had "soul" as a defining element of their sound. These guys were mean and lean, dirty and sarcastic, and the more their beards grow, the more mean and lean they are. So Eliminator is mean and lean, and in a very natural way. The synth treatment and Eighties-style guitar tones only help them in that endeavour.

So it's not all that diverse stylistically. Neither is Back In Black, big deal - it merely means it's not the best album of all time. It's actually got one ballad, 'I Need You Tonight', reason number one why no-one should ever overlook the possibilities of expert production: record it with a different guitar tone, a different bass amplifier, and a different feedback procession, and you got The Rock of Boredom for Ages. Instead, here's an opportunity for you to crank it up loud and dig in to the steady rhythm punch (you gotta love that never-ending 4/4 which is all over this record - c'mon now, can't live in 27/24 all your life, can you?) and the crafty, juicy, lick-a-licious soloing that echoes all over your living room. A ballad without a single drop of emotion and yet sounding really cool, now that's gotta be a special thing. And the only other slightly 'deviating' number is the bass-heavy 'Thug', where you'll find some fine slappin' technique on display - not exactly a bass solo in the true sense of the word, but something fairly close.

Everything else merely rocks out, from beginning to end. For me, the faster the song, the better it gets, and thus I'm more in love with non-hit material like 'I Got The Six', which just totally kicks the ticks out of Dick's picks - especially check out Billy's overdriven guitar solo in the last part of the song where he seems to be challenging the spirit of Keith Richards but channels it into his own guitar tone. No wonder I keep remembering AC/DC; only a few bands in this world can really rock so hard with break-less guitar solos to totally blow your mind and get your blood up to boiling point. The mock-live 'Bad Girl' (unless it actually is live) is also a fine chunk of boogie, finishing the record on a note similar to the one of 'Party On The Patio'.

And then there's all those radio-played MTV-sucked songs like 'Gimme All Your Lovin' and 'Sharp Dressed Man' which you probably already know without my help. If I describe one of them, I've pretty much described all of them - similar, but different riffs, the already mentioned 'metallizing' synths which might actually not be synths at all, just processed guitars, and Frank Beard going 4/4 like the grim Tejas robot he is. Not a single sucker, even if it does start getting a bit boring towards the end - but certainly not if you're in the mood for continuous headbanging rock'n'roll. Man, WHAT a sound. Let the purists roast me and crucify me and accuse me of being bribed by Billy Gibbons, I don't care. This album is out there for you to have fun, not to shed tears, and I sure get my fun. And so will you, once you have managed to disconnect the actual music from the size of the band's facial hair... boy, if I were a girl, I certainly wouldn't want to make it out with any of these guys, but then again, I guess it's a special kind of kinkiness to have sex with somebody like Mr Gibbons, so what do I know?


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