Thirty and Counting

ZZ Top (RCA)

By Jim Conway

A preconceived notion can absolutely kill any concept of writing an impartial review. Having said this, I have to confess that whenever a new ZZ Top album hits the racks, I always secretly anticipate this Texas trio blessing us with another "Heard It On The X" or "Mr. Ten Dollar Man." To me, those mid-seventies recordings were propelled with a power-trio inertia that the techno-blues eighties version of the band lacked with their mega-hits "Legs" and "Gimme All Your Lovin'."

OK, I'll even admit that this group is hopelessly caught in the downward spiral of the corporate-classic rock vortex that has drowned many talented performers, be they greater or lesser. But I will say with XXX (Roman numerals representing 30 years in the business), the good news outweighs the bad. No, there is no son of "Tush" or "Tube Snake Boogie, Jr.", but we do have some good-time, raunchy, politically incorrect thee-man boogie to consider.

Sink your teeth into "Poke Chop Sandwich," which lays a funky two-chord riff with so much sleaze that one might fear guitarist Billy Gibbons must coat his guitar with enough motor oil to cause the potential for a messy hazardous waste cleanup. Probably Gibbons' sound comes as much from effect experimentation as it comes from alternate tunings. Listen to "Made Into A Movie," which is so heavy on low-end that only your dog can hear it. Meanwhile, "Crucifixx-A-Flatt" provides a hip-hop approach, which surprisingly works well with Gibbons' gravelly vocals, and shows that there's no need to bring in a current Anglo-rapper to bridge whatever generational gap-filling promotion some marketing executive thinks the song needs for it to be put into prime rotation on MTV. But, hell, they don't even play music videos anymore, so who cares?

I understand that XXX was initially meant to be a live CD, with the band finally settling for a live/studio combo approach a-la 1975's Fandango. With those nasty preconceived notions rearing their ugly heads again, I'm sorry for the shameless retro approach to this review, but It's obvious what this group does so well. It's not about the beards, the hot rods, the nubile young females, or any of the other images that come to mind with ZZ Top, but it's the chemistry between the guitar, bass, and drums. It transcends southern rock, blues, country, or whatever piece of the musical DNA that make up their particular gene pool.

Whatever you want to call it, it's alive and well on XXX, and, like a Texas tumbleweed, still rollin' along.