Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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ZZ Top

  • Rio Grande Mud [London, 1972] C
  • Tejas [London, 1976] C+
  • The Best of ZZ Top [London, 1977] B
  • Deguello [Warner Bros., 1979] A-
  • El Loco [Warner Bros., 1981] B+
  • Eliminator [Warner Bros., 1983] B+
  • Afterburner [Warner Bros., 1985] B
  • Recycler [Warner Bros., 1990] *
  • Greatest Hits [Warner Bros., 1992] A-
  • Antenna [RCA, 1994] Neither
  • XXX [RCA, 1999] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rio Grande Mud [London, 1972]
Significant that the only memorable song by (or from, rather) this no-organ Allmanesque trio--"Francene," a small but deserving hit--was not written by the principals. Let's just hope it isn't very significant. C

Tejas [London, 1976]
Touring the way this band does tears you up by the roots, until the digs at Rolling Stone assume an authenticity lacking in the tales of the Pan-Am Highway. But this is the first trio to hark back to country music as well as blues, and they're brawnier than anything that comes out of Austin. You think Kinky Friedman will cover "Arrested for Driving While Blind"? C+

The Best of ZZ Top [London, 1977]
"10 Legendary Texas Tales," the cover claims, but that's another tall one. "Jesus Just Left Chicago" is more like it--these boys obviously believe that even sonsofgod get the blues. And by concentrating all their favorite steals in one place come up with a not-bad boogie album that can stand in for five lousy ones. High point: "Tush" (hey, I thought that was Jewish). B

Deguello [Warner Bros., 1979]
These guys got off the road for real--sounds as if they spent all three years playing the blues on their front porch. The strident arena technique is gone, every song gives back a verbal phrase or two to make up for the musical ones it appropriates, and to vary the trio format they not only learned how to play horns but figured out where to put them. I've heard a shitload of white blues albums in the wake of Belushi & Aykroyd. This is the best by miles. A-

El Loco [Warner Bros., 1981]
Their boogie's gotten grander again, more nationwide than homegrown, which at its best--the euphemistically misprised "Tube Snake Boogie" (and did you know "Pearl Necklace" is Southwestern for blow job?)--means only that it packs a more powerful kick. That they're eccentric nonetheless is proven not just by the harmonizer-processed voice of evil shaking the DT's while working street PR, but by the brown-eyed mama who guards their groovy little hippie pad with .44, jeep, and German shepherd. The easy life ain't what it used to be. B+

Eliminator [Warner Bros., 1983]
Arena-rockers who never forgot heavy metal was once white blues, they took a long vacation and resurfaced as a fine white blues band starring a guitarist who always sounds like himself. Now, with hitest b.p.m.s speeding the groove, they've motorvated back toward metal again--boogie in overdrive, a funny car that's half platinum and half plutonium. The videos make you smile, the record runs you over. That's the pleasure of it. B+

Afterburner [Warner Bros., 1985]
With sales on Eliminator over five mil almost by accident, this hard-boogieing market strategy is defined by conscious commercial ambition--by its all but announced intention of making ZZ the next Bruce/Madonna/Prince/Michael, with two beards and a Beard at every checkout counter. The Trevor Hornish synth touches and out-front hooks are clues, but the proof is "Rough Boy," an attempted top-five ballad that would sound like pure take-me-or-leave-me revved up. And in case you think they've lost their sense of humor, there's a new dance called the "Velcro Fly." I'm laughing, I'm laughing. B

Recycler [Warner Bros., 1990]
title of the year ("Concrete and Steel," "Decision or Collision") *

Greatest Hits [Warner Bros., 1992]
With their fairly major guitarist and fairly ferocious groove, they're the class of arena blues, and they also write songs. So here are 18, a dozen choice. For nonarena types the revelation is the show-stopping "Got Me Under Pressure"--its groove brooks no modifiers. But from "Legs" to "Tush," from "Sharp Dressed Man" to "Cheap Sunglasses," only one blues standard emerges: "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," which could have been stolen off some black genius's porch, and if it really was I apologize. If Billy Gibbons or Dusty Hill sang as good as he plays, could I still say this? A-

Antenna [RCA, 1994] Neither

XXX [RCA, 1999]
Meaning of title: very, very dirty (sounding) ("Fearless Boogie," "Beatbox"). **